Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nietzschean natural law?


Some years ago, at an initially friendly dinner after a conference, I sat next to a fellow Catholic academic, to whom I mildly expressed the opinion that it had been a mistake for Catholic theologians to move away from the arguments of natural theology that had been so vigorously championed by Neo-Scholastic writers.  He responded in something like a paroxysm of fury, sputtering bromides of the sort familiar from personalist and nouvelle theologie criticisms of Neo-Scholasticism.  Taken aback by this sudden change in the tone of our conversation, I tried to reassure him that I was not denying that the approaches he preferred had their place, and reminded him that belief in the philosophical demonstrability of God’s existence was, after all, just part of Catholic doctrine.  But it was no use.  Nothing I said in response could mollify him.  It was like he’d seen a ghost he thought had been exorcised long ago, and couldn’t pull out of the subsequent panic attack.
 
He was not, it should be emphasized, a theological or political liberal.  Far from it.  Nor is his response, though extreme, as unusual as you might think.  There is something about Thomism, Neo-Scholasticism, and “rationalistic” approaches to religion and morality in general that drives a certain kind of religious sensibility, even a certain kind of conservative religious sensibility, absolutely bonkers.  I’ve seen it over and over again.  Give such a person a purely philosophical argument for God’s existence or a natural law argument for some moral conclusion and he will start convulsing like the repairman in Brazil when asked for form 27B-6.  He won’t point to any actual flaw in the argument.   He’s just offended by the very idea of it.  “B-but there’s no appeal to faith, or scripture, or tradition!  And you made use of pagan concepts!  And you didn’t shout ‘Praise Jesus!’  There must be something wrong with it!” 

What explains this mindset?  Constitutional impatience with (or simple incapacity for) conceptual precision and argumentative rigor?  A Pharisaical repugnance at the notion that non-Christian thinkers might have had something of importance to say about God or morality?  Resentment of the suggestion that a mere philosophical argument could succeed where Bible thumping or rhetorical eloquence has failed? 

One thing’s for sure, the religious critics of natural theology and natural law seem chronically unable to provide any good arguments for their misgivings.  I’ve had reason to consider several woolly attacks on natural law theory in recent months (e.g. here, here, and here), and another, by Thomas M. Cothran, has recently been posted at the website of the journal Anamnesis.   It’s hysterical, in every sense of the word.  Cothran assures his readers that we Neo-Scholastic natural law theorists, our Thomism and Catholicism notwithstanding, are really implicitly beholden to… wait for it… wait for it… “a Nietzschean overcoming of Christianity.”  The point of Garrigou-Lagrange’s Reality, it seems, was to provide a deceptively pious dust jacket within which to hide your copy of The Antichrist.   Who knew?   No doubt Henri de Lubac, who is (as the bylaws of Catholic anti-natural law polemic require), the hero of Cothran’s piece.  Nouvelle theologie repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as a half-baked rant on the interwebs. 

These things seem to be painted by the numbers.  Don’t name any specific targets.  Attack straw men.  Ignore crucial distinctions.  Relentlessly conflate historical connections with logical connections.  Assert with confidence, but without supporting argument.  Keep your prose purple.  Cothran hits all these marks of the genre, and adds one of his own: the gratuitous smear.  Evidently proud of this new tactic, he leads with it:

While natural lawyers have a disproportionate influence in the resistance to same sex marriage, they remain relatively silent (or else ignored) on, say, usurious lending practices or unjust wages—for this reason, one might forgive those who suspect the newfound enthusiasm for natural law arguments to be motivated more by opportunism than conviction. (A proportionate insistence on economic and social justice would go a long way to proving this suspicion unfounded.)

Of course, what counts as “usury” has been a notoriously vexed problem for centuries within natural law theory and Catholic moral theology, and determining exactly what strict justice requires vis-à-vis wages in various specific concrete circumstances (as opposed to general principle) isn’t always much easier to determine.  By contrast, opposition to “same-sex marriage” is, given the standard natural law understanding of sexual morality, a no-brainer.  And of course, “same-sex marriage” is an entirely new phenomenon that has raised urgent political and legal questions, whereas the disputes over usury and the just wage are long-standing.  These facts provide a pretty obvious explanation of the greater attention contemporary natural law theorists devote to the one issue rather than to the others -- if an explanation (as opposed, say, to a cheap rhetorical point) is what one is really looking for. 

Cothran’s main calumny against natural law theorists, however, is the “Nietzschean” nonsense.  He sets it up with the following egregious mischaracterization of the natural law position:

[I]t is one thing to resort to the natural law tradition for arguments devoid of explicitly Christian premises, and another entirely to present the natural law tradition as a form of secular reason. Unfortunately, proponents often advertise natural law on the grounds of its secularity. In the words of one natural law theorist, “Objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition.”

End quote.  Incidentally, the natural law theorist Cothran quotes here -- without attribution -- is me.  Specifically, he’s quoting from the first of several pieces I recently wrote on David Bentley Hart’s critique of natural law theory.  Now you might be wondering: “Where does Feser, either in the line Cothran quotes or anywhere else, characterize natural law theory as ‘a form of secular reason’?” The answer, of course, is: “Nowhere.”  For to say that natural law theory does not appeal to any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition, is not to say that it makes use of no theological notions at all.  On the contrary, a complete natural law theory includes considerations from natural theology (as distinct from revealed theology).  Hence it can hardly be described as “secular” in the sense Cothran evidently has in mind.

But that doesn’t stop Cothran from proceeding to dress up his ridiculous straw man a little further before attacking it.  He writes:

There is… a gross historical anachronism in confusing the present dichotomy between the religious and secular (which originated in the sixteenth century from developments in Protestant theology) with the quite different distinction between faith and reason of a more ancient provenance.  It is clearly erroneous to ascribe to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle only a pure, “non-religious” form of reason—Socrates had his daemon, after all, Plato the spirit Eros to lift his soul to the divine, and Aristotle named his metaphysics (quite accurately) “theology.”…

End quote.  Once again the incredulous longtime reader of this blog will be wondering where on earth Cothran has gotten this bizarre notion that I (or any other natural law theorist for that matter) would characterize Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle as “non-religious” or “secular” -- when, of course, the truth is that the contributions of the Greek philosophers to natural theology is a theme I fairly relentlessly harp on about. 

Now what is true is that I have said that a partial grasp of the natural law can be had without reference to God.  The reason is that natural law has its proximate ground in human nature, and human nature can to some extent be known apart even from the truths of natural theology (just as knowledge of matters of chemistry, physics, logic, mathematics, etc. can be had without reference to natural theology).  To be sure, as I have also always maintained, to see the moral significance of human nature requires seeing the world through classical metaphysical eyes -- in particular, through an essentialist and teleological metaphysics.  But that this metaphysics entails the key theses of natural theology is something that requires further argumentation.  Hence there are going to be certain truths of natural law -- for example, that lying, stealing, dishonoring one’s parents, murder, and adultery are objectively wrong -- that can be known even by someone who does not see that the essentialist and teleological metaphysics that makes their wrongness intelligible also leads to a classical theist picture of the world. 

Once we see that it does lead there, though, we have a natural theology that must be part of any complete account of natural law.  We see in particular that even as a matter of natural law, man’s highest good is God -- something pagans like Aristotle and Plotinus knew well, as I have often emphasized (rather than denied).  We will also see that natural law enjoins on us various religious duties, whether or not we accept any purported divine revelation.  Again, natural law theory does not as such appeal to revelation, scripture, etc., but that does not mean that it is “secular” or that it makes no use of theology of any sort.  To fail to see this is to fail to see the difference between natural theology (the kind that appeals to purely philosophical arguments) and revealed theology (the kind that appeals to special revelation).  (I have discussed the relationship between natural law and natural theology in previous posts -- such as here and here -- as well as in chapter 5 of Aquinas.) 

The distinction between natural and revealed theology is something Cothran ignores, however.  That is precisely how he generates his straw man.  The natural law theorist qua natural law theorist does not appeal to divine revelation, “therefore” (Cothran reasons) he must be committed to “a form of secular reason” -- as if these were the only two options.  The fallacy of false alternative having facilitated the construction of his straw man, Cothran is now ready for his crescendo, the affixing of the “Nietzschean” nametag on the Neo-Scholastic effigy, so that the bonfire can begin:

To conceive of human nature aside from revelation requires, at this point in history, a Nietzschean overcoming of Christianity, an extirpation of God’s transformation of mankind, and perhaps even a (however strategic) negation of the hypostatic union….

To conceive of a natura pura (i.e., a human nature devoid of reference to the supernatural and transparent to reason) we would need to rid our traditions of thought of the vestiges of Christian revelation—and our model, at least in this respect, would be Nietzsche…

[A] pure nature can perhaps be achieved by a labor of thought that clips the wings of the human spirit. Hear the call of Zarathustra: “Stay true to the earth, my brothers, with the power of your virtue! Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve the meaning of the earth! Do not let them fly away from earthly things and beat with their wings against eternal walls! Ah, there has always been so much virtue that has flown away! Lead, like me, the flown virtue back to the earth.”

End quote, mercifully.  Now, how does a grown man get himself to believe such tosh?  The answer, as the attack on natura pura indicates, is by reading lots of de Lubac.  In Surnaturel, de Lubac famously charged the Thomists’ doctrine of natura pura or pure nature -- the notion that man has a purely natural end distinguishable from the supernatural end of the beatific vision -- with opening the door to the secularization that has characterized the modern world.  Cothran echoes the theme:

The danger of natural law, then, is this: however successful natural law might be as a rhetorical strategy the Christian idea of human nature cannot be reconciled with the secular location of human fulfillment in finite worldly ends: wealth, pleasure, autonomy, duty, even friendship or statecraft…

This extrinsic relation between the natural and the supernatural characteristic of neo-scholastic thought shares a secret lineage with modern secularism. The idea of a purely natural end, a natura pura, devoid of an ontological drive for God, emerged at first as a hypothetical possibility…

But as anyone knows who has bothered to read what the Thomists in question actually wrote, this is simply a ludicrous, and indeed defamatory, misrepresentation of their position.  When Neo-Scholastics and other Thomists write about a purely natural end, they don’t have in mind mere worldly goods like wealth, pleasure, statecraft, etc., and they do not regard natura pura as a state “devoid of an ontological drive for God.”  On the contrary, as Lawrence Feingold writes in The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters:

[D]e Lubac understands the state of a purely natural happiness as one in which man would be basically self-sufficient and closed into himself, not needing God’s aid for his beatitude, a notion which he rightly finds repugnant.  However, it should be noted that this is not actually taught by the Thomists targeted by de Lubac.  On the contrary, they view it as a state of beatitude that can be achieved only through the aid of God, but realized, in a way proportionate to man’s nature, in a loving contemplation of God as grasped through His work of creation. (p. 314)

It is only the intimate knowledge of the divine essence entailed by the beatific vision that Thomists regard as a supernatural rather than natural end.  Our natural end is not other than God, however; it is, rather, just a merely natural knowledge of God, less perfect than that which is available through grace alone. 

There is rich irony here, for Cothran swooped into my combox a couple months back to complain that I had misrepresented de Lubac, though he was never able to show exactly how.  (It soon became obvious enough that what really set him on edge was that I had dared to disagree with his hero.)  And yet here he is egregiously misrepresenting Neo-Scholastic Thomists in general and me in particular.  Add hypocrisy to the list of the foibles of the natural law critics.

And maybe intellectual dishonesty too, though charity requires that I note that simple ignorance might be an alternative source of this further howler from Cothran:

As a matter of historical scholarship, there is no longer much controversy: Cajetan and Suarez erred in their exegesis of Aquinas. 

What Cothran is alluding to here is the nouvelle theologie view that for centuries Thomists had been misreading Aquinas -- just like, you know, St. Paul was “really” a Lutheran and the Catholics had somehow gotten him all wrong -- with St. Thomas up in heaven desperately imploring our Lord to hurry up and send de Lubac to set everyone straight.  It seems to be common nouvelle theologie shtick to pretend that this has simply been established, everyone knows it, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, etc., but that’s sheer bluff.  In fact the debate over de Lubac’s claims about Aquinas and the Thomist tradition continues vigorously, as is evidenced not only by Feingold’s book, but by books like Steven Long’s Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace, Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, Bernard Mulcahy’s Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac, and Serge-Thomas Bonino’s edited volume Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought.

One more for the road.  In good de Lubacian fashion, Cothran, blurring the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, assures us that:

Only from a theological point of view, a preexistent view of the supernatural, could an independent nature come into view—both chronologically (i.e., the concept of a secular or imminent [sic] nature did not precede the concept of the supernatural in time) or logically (i.e., the natural is always defined in contradistinction to the supernatural).

Cothran’s claim is twofold, as are the problems with it, viz. historical falsity and philosophical incoherence.  For one thing, the concept of an immanent nature did precede the concept of the supernatural in time.  (I leave aside the “secular” stuff, which, as I’ve already noted, is a red herring.)  The Greeks had, in its essentials, the concept of “nature” operative in natural theology and natural law, but they did not have the relevant concept of the “supernatural,” which is Biblical. 

What takes the cake, though, is the casual confidence with which Cothran makes so manifestly problematic a statement as “the natural is always defined in contradistinction to the supernatural.”  “Supernatural,” of course, means “above or beyond the natural.”  That is to say, the notion of the natural is conceptually prior to that of the supernatural -- just as the notion of a highway is conceptually prior to that of a superhighway, or, for that matter, just as the notion of a man is conceptually prior to that of Nietzsche’s “superman.”  Not only is the natural not “always defined in contradistinction to the supernatural,” it is never so defined.

Well, almost never.   Here’s one case where it is, and one further irony.  If you read contemporary naturalist philosophers, you will find they have a devil of a time giving a precise definition of what they mean by “natural.”  (Contrast this with Aristotle, who has no trouble defining the natural in the Physics as that which flows from an intrinsic principle.  But modern naturalists don’t want to take on board Aristotelian notions like substantial form or the like.)  The tendency is to settle on defining the natural as whatever is not supernatural.  (They may not know what they like, you see, but they know what they dislike.)  In other words, contemporary naturalists essentially define the natural “in contradistinction to the supernatural.”

So, there you have it: Thomas Cothran in bed with modern naturalists.  Poetic justice for someone who would accuse Neo-Scholastic Thomists (of all people) of being crypto-Nietzscheans (of all things).

91 comments:

John Lamont said...

One cannot blame de Lubac for this position, as he never maintained it - one wonders if Cothran has actually read his books through to the end. He could hardly have maintained it, since he argued that St. Thomas rejected the idea of natura pura, and St. Thomas notoriously said a lot about the natural law. Cothran confuses the claim that there is no natural end for man, and that the sole end is the supernatural one of the Beatific Vision, with the claim that the sole source of information that we possess for how to attain our supernatural end is divine revelation. The latter claim would require not only that our ultimate end be supernatural, but that there be no natural goods of human nature at all - goods that can be known using our natural faculties alone, and the rejection of which involves rejecting our supernatural end as well. But this is absurd.

Daniel said...

Speaking as someone who is not a Christian (though accepts a large part of Thomas’ and indeed other scholastics natural theology and philosophy of nature) it would seem one of the great strengths of Catholicism is how well the thesis of Natural Law tallies with it. I mean since Natural Law can be deduced through the intellect it can’t reasonably be overruled by a purported revelation so if said revelation tallies with it then surely says something in the latter’s favour. The only criticism I would bring against Thomas own concept of the natural state is that he steadfastly refused to grant the human intellect a natural capacity of the vision of God (I would argue Aristotle does this in the famous passage of the Ethics were he speaks of us endeavouring to make the immortal part of our souls as divine as possible).

Brandon said...

Having argued against usurious practices for years, and far more than I ever talk about sexual ethics, I was amused at the charge that natural law theorists focus more on sexual matters than social matters. But while usury, lying, and certain sexual practices do have close links as counternatural acts, usury is in many ways a different kettle of fish. For one thing, the precise nature of the contract matters, and there are endless varieties of contract. Contrary to a common opinion, the rejection of usury is not a rejection of all interest on loans, but the claim that any money made on it, including both what we call interest and what we usually classify as fees, has to be justified in terms of paying for a genuine service provided or compensating for genuine risk or loss. Thus the single most important issue is not the interest itself, but simply transparency about exactly why interest and fees are being charged.

Second, history matters: the credit scene has always been fast-changing, which is one reason why usury has always been one of the thorniest problems in natural law -- someone's always coming up with a new variety of loan contract. And usury, despite being a perennial problem, and despite probably being more widespread, is a much less severe problem than it used to be. Even a credit card charges less interest than a typical medieval or Renaissance loan, and while this does not at all imply that there's no usury going on, when combined with various credit protections offered by most credit-heavy nations it does mean that outside obvious abuses it is occurring far more by skimming lots and lots of people who can afford it rather than outright ruining those who can't. If one were to live in a society in which people often lied, but it was mostly small lies for achieving minor goods, the lying would still be a problem, but it would be much less of a problem than if one were to live in a society in which people often lied with big lies for the purpose of destroying reputations.

And third, context matters: what's most visible, and what most extensively requires defense, is always a matter of what's most controversial, and it always takes at least two parties to a dispute to make it controversial. I do think there's something to be said for natural law theorists focusing on showing people that they can provide coherent accounts of things on which there is widespread agreement; but it's not as if it's any mystery why sexual matters come up so often: it's the point at which natural law theorists consistently get most vehemently attacked.

Pseudodionysius@DenysCarthusian said...

Just 2 quick points:

(1) Great to see Dr John Lamont in the combox here at the USS Ed Feser (the fully armed, operational and battle ready Thomist Dreadnought prowling the high sea for fallacy, heresy and the perfect single malt).

(2) The Nouvelle Theologie rant of the day is beginning to sound Steve Martin in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid when someone says "cleaning woman."

Thank you for this thorough evisceration.

Tony said...

Ed, thank you very much for making this point. It is time, and past time, for the nouvelle theologie types to stop already with bashing natural law for not doing something it never claimed or tried to do, and for supposedly doing something that it never really did to begin with. Straw man indeed. I am tired of being erroneously charged by supposedly thoughtful Christians with being allied to Endarkenment (correct term for the mis-named "Enlightenment") philosophies because I have the temerity to read St. Thomas the way St. Thomas wrote St. Thomas, and to read the Bible with St. Thomas in mind.

I do think there's something to be said for natural law theorists focusing on showing people that they can provide coherent accounts of things on which there is widespread agreement; but it's not as if it's any mystery why sexual matters come up so often: it's the point at which natural law theorists consistently get most vehemently attacked.

Right, Brandon. It's like taking a cheap shot at a guy while his guard is down, and then when he comes back fighting, standing back and being appalled at "the violence" of the responder.

Liberal Left: Sex, sex, sex, 24 hours, in every way, shape, or form imaginable, and even when not imaginable, no holds barred. Sex whether you want it, whether I want it, social forms designed to MAKE you want it!

Natural Lawyer: correction to above based on: time, place, person, intention, end, nature. Meaning of sex contained within larger context.

Nouvelle: Boy, all you talk about is sex!

rank sophist said...

Of course, what counts as “usury” has been a notoriously vexed problem for centuries within natural law theory and Catholic moral theology, and determining exactly what strict justice requires vis-à-vis wages in various specific concrete circumstances (as opposed to general principle) isn’t always much easier to determine.

This kind of hand-waving is what drives people like Cothran (as wrong as he may be on other issues) to say that natural lawyers are callously allied to immoral business practices. To criticize sexual deviance and then to more-or-less ignore the sins of modern capitalism is simply wrong, particularly when it is those sins--rather than sexual deviance--that are issues of justice.

That said, Cothran is insane if he thinks that it makes sense to call natura pura a Nietzschean concept. It's certainly false and non-Christian; but it has far more in common with Enlightenment rationalism than it does with Nietzsche's critique of Enlightenment rationalism.

Daniel,

I mean since Natural Law can be deduced through the intellect it can’t reasonably be overruled by a purported revelation

The problem is that natural law, despite being real and true, is far from obvious--even to brilliant thinkers like Aquinas. Without the light of revelation to show us what's right and wrong ahead of time, we humans tend to reason ourselves into grave errors. Revelation "overrules" natural law in every case, because a) truth cannot contradict truth and b) revelation is more certain than natural deductions. Properly speaking, though, revelation doesn't overrule natural law, since true natural law is incapable of disagreeing with revelation. Not that having access to revelation guarantees that one's natural law reasoning will be correct (ST IIb q11 a3, anyone?).

Unless, of course, you're talking about continuous revelation, which is an idea rejected by Catholics and the Orthodox alike.

Edward Feser said...

rs,

Puh-lease. There's no "hand-waving." Neither Cothran's article nor my reply is about usury, just wage, etc. in the first place. He made a snide and irrelevant passing comment and I gave it the brief response it deserved.

I should add that if you glibly deny that usury has for centuries been a vexed issue in natural law and Catholic theology or that there are practical difficulties in applying the just wage principle in concrete circumstances, then it is you rather than I who are guilty of hand-waving.

Re: justice, I would say that sexual morality is in part a question of social justice. The breakdown of the family is the single greatest factor behind poverty in the U.S. context, and the attempt to legislate or declare by judicial fiat that there is such a thing as "same-sex marriage" raises, by definition, questions of justice.

All awful luck for the kind of Catholic who wants to play a silly "pox on both your houses" game vis-a-vis liberals and conservatives, but there it is.

Tony said...

This kind of hand-waving is what drives people like Cothran (as wrong as he may be on other issues) to say that natural lawyers are callously allied to immoral business practices. To criticize sexual deviance and then to more-or-less ignore the sins of modern capitalism is simply wrong,

Oh, brother, RS. The problem with your complaint is that it stands athwart one of THE main distinctions that both natural law and revelation tell us about moral acts: There are intrinsically evil acts, and other evil acts that are not. Fornication, adultery, and intentionally contracepted sex are wrong - wrong in every case, wrong in every circumstance, wrong at all times and in all cultures, because they are intrinsically wrong, whereas charging interest, and paying low wages ARE NOT intrinsically wrong. So, when the topic of the discussion is, specifically, that there are actions that are OBJECTIVELY wrong, and therefore wrong for all actors and in all cases, (say in Veritatis Splendor 78), the sexual sins are examples and under discussion, the interest and low wages are not examples. To suggest that the natural lawyer is "ignoring" the sins attached to charging interest and paying low wages as if it is "callous" is simply wrong, you are failing to ascertain the topic of the discussion.

It so happens that so many left-liberals, (and not a few neo-conservatives) disagree with the notion that there are actions that are intrinsically wrong. If we cannot even convince them of THAT, (which should be relatively easy), the prospect of establishing to mutual satisfaction exactly what the moral ill is in charging certain kinds of interest but not others, or of paying too low wages in some situations but not others, is nearly hopeless. So, is it the natural lawyer's fault that the discussion rarely gets into the nuanced, difficult cases, and when it does it never actually resolves them?

Or, like a high school sophomore who has his first taste of an adult-type discussion of meaty thoughts, the Nouvelle wants to get into the ills of charging interest without first ascertaining any of the principles by which acceptable interest can be distinguished from inappropriate interest, and then gets impatient and disgusted with the natural lawyer because he tries to get the principles and distinctions in place first. That's puerile.

DeusPrimusEst said...

Ed Feser,

If the time given for when your posts is given in accurate local American time, then I have only one question:

When, if at all, do you get some shut eye?

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

Thanks for the response. I didn't read Cothran's article, so I wasn't aware of how little space he dedicated to the topic. But brushing his concern aside for being "complicated" is still not warranted. It's a valid point. If the problems of usury and just wage are so complicated--which they are--, then one would expect to see natural lawyers spending a lot more time on them than they do. They're issues that need to be tackled from every angle, and in public view. For some reason, though, I rarely see natural law discussed unless it's related to sexual morality.

As for justice: if the breakdown of the family is an issue of justice, then it seems that the state should legislate against contraception, cohabitation, adultery and the rest. Injustice is, after all, an issue that involves governments. A controversial case to make. I can agree with the point about forcing the recognition of same-sex marriage, though.

Tony,

whereas charging interest, and paying low wages ARE NOT intrinsically wrong.

The topic was usury (i.e. the intrinsically evil practice of overcharging interest) and unjust wages (i.e. the intrinsically evil practice of underpaying others for their work). These things are wrong in all cultures and time periods. Your argument just moves the goal posts.

If we cannot even convince them of THAT, (which should be relatively easy), the prospect of establishing to mutual satisfaction exactly what the moral ill is in charging certain kinds of interest but not others, or of paying too low wages in some situations but not others, is nearly hopeless.

Or is it? Criticism of evil business practices is widespread even in secular groups. People who would be shocked by natural law morality in other respects--sexuality, in particular--would in all likelihood be with us regarding usury and just wage. Just look at how the secular media has fawned over Pope Francis's attacks on capitalism. Blaming natural lawyers' failure to address usury and just wage on their opposition is misguided.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but my understanding is that (1) the Church has always, or usually at least, differentiated between different kinds of interest, naming some usury and others not; and (2) that the Church, despite what some Catholics who are a little too keen on certain free market economists might suggest, still maintains that usury is sinful.

One example of usury that, I believe, has and is always considered sinful is the lending of money for consumption.

I don't think, Rank Sophist, usury traditionally means overcharging of interest - which is the modern definition. It can apply to certain types of interest at relatively modest levels.

My understanding is slight, but I think that usury traditionally is the charging of interest for the use of money alone. I can't remember the technical term for this, but there is one. But if you up front claim that you are owed more than a slight administrative fee for simply letting money you have be used, then you are committing the sin of usury. There are complicating factors even here though, but this is the basic idea. As I said, lending money to someone for consumption, like a personal credit card, is one more obvious example of such usurious lending.

It is an interesting topic, and one that needs more discussion. I will confess I do lean heavily towards the distributist perspective.

rank sophist said...

Jeremy,

That's really interesting. I am also a beginner on the topic of usury, who knows little more than what Aquinas wrote about it in the ST. I was pretty sure that credit cards were usurious, but your definition really clarifies it.

And I too have distributist sympathies. I think that the criticisms of capitalism put forward by G. K. Chesterton and the last 100+ years worth of Popes are decisive.

Anonymous said...

The Indivisible Unity

The self-consciousness of individual beings inheres in Transcendental Consciousness, or Transcendental Divine Being Itself.
The body-mind of every individual being injeres in the Self-Radiant Love-Bliss of Transcendental Divine Being Itself.
Nature, or the worlds of the relations of self-conscious psycho-physical beings, inheres in a Matrix of Light or Energy or Life that also inheres in the Self-Radiant Love-Bliss of Transcendental Divine Being Itself.

That in Which or in Whom self-consciousness, the body-mind, and all possible worlds of experience and presumed knowledge inhere is Self-Radiant, Eternal, Indestructible, Perfect, and Absolute Happiness.

We are, in essence or in Reality, That One.
We are not destructible, even by death.
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This is the "faith" or intelligent certainty of those who are founded in clear Understanding.

Therefore, what is necessary is self-understanding, self-transcendence, and a tacit recognition of all appearances in their Substance or Source-Condition, Then the Indivisible Unity of Existence will Stand Obvious in the midst of self and world. Then the Way or the Law inherent in Reality It-Self, of self-transcendence and Ultimate Translation into the Infinitely Radiant Domain will be clearly Revealed to the living being.

Tony said...

The topic was usury (i.e. the intrinsically evil practice of overcharging interest) and unjust wages (i.e. the intrinsically evil practice of underpaying others for their work). These things are wrong in all cultures and time periods. Your argument just moves the goal posts.

The defining of usury as distinct from "charging interest" is something that took the Church many centuries to nail down, and the application of it depends heavily on contract principles and forms of titles to property - and can morph over time as contract law and property titles change in society. As a result, it can happen that similar acts that were contrary to morality 1000 years ago are not now, not because moral principles changed, but because the similarities leave just enough room for the differences to push different application of the moral principles. While this doesn't mean that "usury" is not intrinsically wrong, it does mean that talking about it and successfully identifying which acts are those intrinsically wrong acts is "complicated", and unlikely to succeed without access to prior, deeper principles. That is, people who refuse to talk about deeper moral principles (and thus natural law) are very, very likely to just plain get it wrong. But that's just precisely the problem the natural lawyer runs into in talking about this stuff, rejection of larger principles to begin with. So, yes, it looks like he never "gets around to" talking about usury because he never gets out of talking about the foundations because the interlocutors often reject them.

As for "unjust wages", you cannot make something "intrinsically wrong" by throwing in front of it a term that means "wrong". If I eat one bite of dessert too many, the "too many" makes it wrong, obviously, but if the whole reason for the wrongness is merely in the amount being (just) beyond a reasonable amount, the act is wrong because of circumstances, which is utterly NOT what we mean by "intrinsically wrong".

One of the principles that Leo XIII laid out in Rerum Novarum about wages was that just wages for a family man should support the man and his family. But this is definitively not a general principle, so that violating it is intrinsically wrong. For example, suppose a factory owner has been paying his journeyman workers $30 per hour, (works out to %60,000 / year), and this is considered a clearly just wage. Now: the industry as a whole flops because of circumstances beyond anyone's control, and the factory is going to reduce income by 60% on the same number of products sold - only 30% higher than cost without wages. The owner tells everyone: "there isn't enough money coming in the door for me to pay $30 / hour, I have to reduce your wages to $14 / hour (and at that I take 0 profit). It's either that or I close the plant as a loss." Clearly $14 / hour is not enough to support the worker and his family, it may not even be enough to support just the worker himself, but it STILL DOESN'T constitute unjust wages. So, the "unjust" part of "unjust wages" can represent areas where the acts are wrong not by the nature of the act itself but by circumstances, and thus the injustice is both "complicated" and not that of "intrinsically wrong" acts. And, again, attempting to identify which marketplace acts in the concrete are intrinsically wrong is very likely to go awry without first establishing sound principlss, and this is what the natural lawyer spends so much time doing.

It isn't "ignoring" usury or unjust wages to work on establishing the principles by which those evils can be successfully identified in the concrete.

Tony said...

Oh, and by the way, since usury is NOT "the evil practice of overcharging interest", that kind of undercuts your point. Usury is the charging of interest where there is no adequate basis for charging interest, where a basis is something over and above the mere fact of lending itself. But what such things constitute just basis for charging interest is quite complicated, and Jeremy's claim against "consumption" loans is inadequate - the purpose for the money being lent does not tell us about the bases for interest one way or another, so the example is underdetermined to identify a usurious lending. Most consumer debt is usurious, but that's because it has no adequate basis for the interest being charged.

Seamus said...

It’s hysterical, in every sense of the word.

Which means that, among other things, these arguments are products of a disorder or disturbance of the uterus.

Brandon said...

There's not really any need to speculate about what the Church means by usury; it is explicitly laid out in the tenth session of the Fifth Lateran Council and Benedict XIV's Encyclical, Vix Pervenit. (The latter, one of the great encyclicals from one of the truly great Popes, also lays out the primary task if one really wants to eliminate usury: work for contracts that lay out clearly why the interest is being charged in terms of work, risk, or loss, and when you lend always make it clear yourself.) Aquinas's position, incidentally, is much more conservative than either -- he lived in a time when there were many fewer kinds of loan contract than the explosion of varieties that began in the Renaissance and had to be sorted out and before people like Blessed Bernardino of the Pawn Shops invented microlending for charitable purposes (the montes pietatis).

Although usury is undeniably a formative topic for natural law, it is so because it is one of the most difficult topics to get right. I've actually argued the topic with bankers and economists, and it gets very complicated very quickly. This is not a discussion that will ever get wide purchase. And, as I mentioned before, the primary practical task for someone taking seriously natural law on this point is to work for more explicit and transparent lending contracts, and I know from experience that if you set this down as a primary practical goal in front of people, they usually lose interest completely, and are never enthusiastic even when they regard it as a very good idea. It's a very different kind of discussion.

Vasco Gama said...

The problems I have with the criticism of natural law is related to the fact that we don’t live in a society that shares the same faith, rather it is made from people of distinct believes and world views, so how is it possible to support, defend and reason moral (and ethic) values with others in name of a revelation that is not universally accepted (further it doesn’t look reasonable at all, even if would be the case that some criticism could be made).

Pedro Erik said...

I remembered what pope Benedict XVI said regarding Hans Urs Balthasar:

"Hans Urs von Balthasar was a theologian who placed his research at the service of the Church, because he was convinced that theology could be defined only in terms of ecclesiality. Theology, as he conceived of it, must be joined with spirituality; indeed, only in this way could it be profound and effective. Reflecting on precisely this aspect, he wrote: "Or did scientific theology only begin with Peter Lombard? Yet none dealt more adequately with matters of theology than Cyril of Jerusalem, Origen in his homilies, Gregory of Nazianzen and the Areopagite, the master whose works are so full of the spirit of awe and wonder. Who would be so bold as to say of any of the Fathers that his works are ‘full of unction’ in the modern sense? In those days, men were clear as to how theology should be written: it should reflect both the unity of faith and knowledge and an attitude of objectivity allied with one of reverence and awe. Theology was, when pursued by men of sanctity, a theology at prayer: which is why its fruitfulness for prayer, its power to foster prayer, is so undeniable" (The Word Made Flesh: Explorations in Theology vol. I, Ignatius Press 1989, pp. 207-208). These are words that prompt us to reconsider the true position of research in theology. The demand for scientific method is not sacrificed when theological research is carried on in a religious spirit of listening to the Word of God, when it is alive with the life of the Church and shares in the strength of her Magisterium. Spirituality does not attenuate the work of scholarship, but rather supplies theological study with the correct method so that it can arrive at a coherent interpretation."

See: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/benxvi_praiseshub_oct05.asp

R Divozzo said...

Dr. Feser:

While we agree on the neo-Scholastic teaching on pure nature, I think there are nuances to de Lubac's position, which, if you're not aware of, you'll want to understand; almost certainly, cotton-heads like Cothran are not aware of them as they mis-represent both sides of the issue.
I've provided a link below to an excellent review by Nicholas J. Healy of de Lubac's views and the neo-Scholastics' critique of them. You may already have read it, but if not, it's well worth it. Although Healy defends de Lubac's view, he seems to me to be eminently fair and well-informed in re. it and the neo-Scholastics' view. Healy makes none of the ham-fisted mistakes Cothran (who quotes Healy in the piece on which you take him to task)) does and confers a nuanced understanding of a very difficult and abstruse controversy. You're, doubtless, a better judge of these matters than I, but Healy's piece increased considerably my respect for de Lubac's theology -- but then, of course, the whole nouvelle theologie school is another matter.

http://www.communio-icr.com/files/HealyFinalFormat.pdf

RJD

Edward Feser said...

Hello John (Lamont) and RJD,

Yes, I did not mean to imply any glib dismissal of de Lubac here, but only of the glib use Cothran makes of him. I'm aware that, especially after Humani Generis, de Lubac tried to formulate his position in a more nuanced way than what one might suspect from some popular expositions.

Johannes said...

Two months ago I posted the following in a combox. I repost it here for the benefit of blog readers that can read Spanish.

The issue being debated is whether a rational nature that has been given the capacity and suitability ("the obediential potency") to be raised by God to participation in the divine life and subsequent attainment of the Beatific Vision (in short "the supernatural"), has as a result a rigorous necessity for the supernatural in order to achieve true happiness.

It is critical to note that true happiness is not the same as ultimate happiness. Nobody discusses that the Beatific Vision is the only possible ultimate happiness. What is in question is whether a created rational being can be truly happy in an everlasting state consistent with his nature as created, contingent being, i.e. an unending transit from potency to act, an unending development.

IMV, the best demonstration that such state of "everlasting natural happiness" is a valid theoretical possibility comes from Spanish theologian and longtime professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University Juan Alfaro (1914-1993), whose concept of "obediential potency" is a kind of "via media" between the "absolute desire" of de Lubac and the mere "non repugnance" of Cajetan and Garrigou-Lagrange.

The good news is that his key work on the subject is online:

Alfaro 1957. "Trascendencia e inmanencia de lo sobrenatural". Gregorianum Vol. 38, p. 5-50.

http://books.google.com/books?id=XsnS9PibDQIC

The bad news (i.e. for most readers of this blog) is that he wrote in Spanish. BTW, the word "creaturalidad" in that work, meaning "creatureness", has been coined by Alfaro. Don't look it up in a dictionary.

A much shorter presentation of Alfaro's thesis is in his "Nature and grace" entry in Karl Rahner-edited "Sacramentum Mundi". In Spanish, it is in the 1st 3 paragraphs of section 4 of:

http://mercaba.org/Mundi/4/naturaleza_y_gracia.htm

"I ask the Rabbi the meaning of life. He tells me the meaning of life... But, he tells it to me in Hebrew. I don't understand Hebrew. Then he wants to charge me six hundred dollars for Hebrew lessons." (Zelig)

Crude said...

I just wanted to say I enjoyed this write-up. I've encountered some of the same thing, but the Brazil ref was so apt.

Edward Feser said...

the Brazil ref was so apt

Thanks, though I have to say that Pseudodionysius' Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid reference above was pretty choice too.

Edward Feser said...

Here's the YouTube link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w23oPQdnNH8

I'll think of my erstwhile dinner companion whenever I see this scene, now, Pseudodionysius. Thanks a lot, you've ruined it! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Is it really so crazy to want a Christian discourse of law to flow from praise of Jesus?

Crude said...

Is it really so crazy to want a Christian discourse of law to flow from praise of Jesus?

I think it's crazy to demand a 'Christian discourse of law' flow not only from praise of Jesus, but from this one specific way that has absolutely no appeal to anything BUT Jesus fundamentally. It's like yelling at William Lane Craig that the Kalam argument is not in the bible and therefore is the work of the devil.

Anonymous said...

Crude, who says it's not in the Bible? St. John identifies Jesus as the Logos, after all, the rhyme and rhythm of creation upon which the natural law is founded.

Crude said...

Crude, who says it's not in the Bible? St. John identifies Jesus as the Logos, after all, the rhyme and rhythm of creation upon which the natural law is founded.

I'm sorry. Are you telling me that the above means 'The Kalam argument is found in the bible'?

Anonymous said...

Crude, my apologies, but I did not make it clear than a different anonymous than the one you initially responded to. I was not referring to the Kalam argument in my comment, but the natural law. Christ, as the Logos, is the source of the natural law as all things were created through Him.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

Naturally, I agree that the Logos is the source of the natural law, since He is the source of everything. But that doesn't really have anything to do with the subject at hand. He is the source of geometrical truth too, but that doesn't mean that a proof of the Pythagorean theorem has to include theological premises. He is also the source of all facts about nutrition, but that doesn't mean that a cookbook has to make reference to the Logos in every or even any recipe. Etc.

By the same token, that he is the source of all moral truth is irrelevant to the question of whether every natural law argument must contain theological premises.

Now, if someone wants to say a prayer to Christ in thanksgiving for the food we eat, or the beauty of mathematical truth, or of the moral law, every time he considers a recipe, a geometrical proof, or a natural law argument, then I say more power to him. But whether piety in the face of such truths is a proper attitude to take (and of course, it is) is just irrelevant to the question whether appeal to theological premises is needed to get such arguments off the ground.

John Lamont said...

The origin of Cothran's views on revelation and law seem rather to be Calvinist, mediated by Karl Barth; on this view total depravity means that our natural faculties can play no role in enabling us to be acceptable to God. de Lubac discusses this sort of view in its Baianist form at length, and rejects it as absurd and un-Catholic. Possibly it can be found in von Balthasar, for whom Barth was a major source of ideas; but identifying von Balthasar as part of the nouvelle theologie is quite wrong and unhistorical - he did not come on the scene until much later, and his thought had little in common with that of de Lubac, Chenu,Congar, Danielou, and Bouillard.

lotharlorraine said...

Hello.
"and reminded him that belief in the philosophical demonstrability of God’s existence was, after all, just part of Catholic doctrine."
Frankly speaking, I doubt it is possible to prove God's existence.
I think that there are interesting arguments challenging materialism but they fall short of demonstrating the existence of a supreme personal being.

I find the ontological argument pretty interesting, and actually I believe one can show that
while materialism is not self-refuting its truth is logically compatible with the existence of non-material things
for materialists have no way to account for the property "EVERYTHING which exists is material" because "all" or "everything" is an abstract property which cannot be contained in the ensemble of the elementary particles which would make up the truth of materialism.
Certainly, if (ontologically) the truth of a worldview is logically compatible with its falsity, the worldview in question seems rather meaningless.

I gave the link because I hope to receive feedbacks from philosophically minded Christians (until now I mainly received responses from atheists) in oder to see if my argument is sound or if I should abondon it because it is flawed.
I apologize if it bothers you. So if it contradicts your policy, please just delete the link.


I would also be interested to know what are (to your) mind the best defense of the ontological argument for God's existence so that I can read the papers or buy the books. I am quite open it might be succesful.

Lovely greetings in Christ.

Tony said...

but identifying von Balthasar as part of the nouvelle theologie is quite wrong and unhistorical - he did not come on the scene until much later, and his thought had little in common with that of de Lubac, Chenu,Congar, Danielou, and Bouillard.

I don't see how you can maintain that. Since the nouvelle theologie is not a formal school but a family of related approaches, all we can ask of a theologian's work is whether it has a family resemblance to the central areas of commonality in the nouvelle theologie's community. And it seems to me that von Balthasar's thought does have that family relationship. Nor am I the only one to notice that. Wiki says it in its entry on Nouvelle Theologie. Even scholarly sources like Edward T. Oakes sees that the resemblance is real enough to tackle as an issue in Balthasar and Ressourcement: An Ambiguous Relationship, and that it cannot be discounted entirely.

http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199552870.001.0001/acprof-9780199552870-chapter-19

Scott W. said...

Naturally, I agree that the Logos is the source of the natural law, since He is the source of everything. But that doesn't really have anything to do with the subject at hand. He is the source of geometrical truth too, but that doesn't mean that a proof of the Pythagorean theorem has to include theological premises.

Excellent point. Exchanges where Our Lord is used as a kind of Brain-off switch reminds me a little of the rapper who put out a video "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" and I thought of a parody title, "Why I hate aerodynamics, but love airplanes."

rank sophist said...

Tony,

As a result, it can happen that similar acts that were contrary to morality 1000 years ago are not now, not because moral principles changed, but because the similarities leave just enough room for the differences to push different application of the moral principles. While this doesn't mean that "usury" is not intrinsically wrong, it does mean that talking about it and successfully identifying which acts are those intrinsically wrong acts is "complicated", and unlikely to succeed without access to prior, deeper principles.

This sort of context is important with regard to any moral reasoning. Immodesty, gluttony, greed and, yes, even lust: all are in part culturally and contextually relative. The Catholic church even allows context-sensitivity on seemingly cut-and-dried issues like contraception, like when one partner wants to use it and the other does not. If you want to move the goal posts so that the only intrinsically wrong acts are ones wrong irrespective of context, then you have made the term "intrinsically wrong" meaningless.

That is, people who refuse to talk about deeper moral principles (and thus natural law) are very, very likely to just plain get it wrong. But that's just precisely the problem the natural lawyer runs into in talking about this stuff, rejection of larger principles to begin with.

The point under debate isn't that natural lawyers get their principles rejected; it's that they most often use those principles to criticize sexual immorality rather than unethical business practices. That was Cothran's jab from the start.

Clearly $14 / hour is not enough to support the worker and his family, it may not even be enough to support just the worker himself, but it STILL DOESN'T constitute unjust wages.

Point taken. However, this still doesn't show that unjust wages are not intrinsically wrong. It simply redefines what an unjust wage must entail.

Brandon,

I wasn't familiar with that encyclical you linked. Great stuff.

Tony said...

Point taken. However, this still doesn't show that unjust wages are not intrinsically wrong. It simply redefines what an unjust wage must entail.

An unjust act of playing monopoly is wrong by hypothesis, but that doesn't make it intrinsically wrong. There are 3 fonts of the moral act, wherein all 3 must be sound for the act to be moral: the object, the end, and the circumstances. As JPII in Veritatis Splendor indicated, there are acts that are wrong aside from the remote end and aside from the circumstances, because they are wrong from the object of the act. These are what we mean by "intrinsically wrong" acts. "Unjust wages" has not identified an act wrong from its object.

Anonymous said...

On an unrelated note, it seems like Stephen Law is discussing Classical Theism and The Privation Theory of Evil at his blog.

DeusPrimusEst said...

lotharlorraine,

"Frankly speaking, I doubt it is possible to prove God's existence.
I think that there are interesting arguments challenging materialism but they fall short of demonstrating the existence of a supreme personal being."

I believe Ive read some of your comments on this blog before; thus this statement is somewhat surprising. Where in your view do arguments like The Five Ways fail, then? If you were interested the ontological argument as such for the existence of God then may I suggest St Anselm's, a discussion of which can be found here:http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/anselms-ontological-argument.html

Sorry if none of this relevant; just curious. I tend to favour cosmological arguments of the sort referenced above myself.

Maolsheachlann said...

Perhaps the reaction you describe at the start of the post rests on the idea that it's unfair for philosophically-minded people to enjoy an advantage over those who are not philosophically-minded when it comes to the most important question of all. One may wonder how it fits with Jesus's words that "You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to mere children". I understand he is referring to the mysteries of faith rather than the existence of God, but it still seems potentially problematic to me that someone with a head for philosophy should be gifted a deeper insight into ultimate truth than someone without.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the reaction you describe at the start of the post rests on the idea that it's unfair for philosophically-minded people to enjoy an advantage over those who are not philosophically-minded when it comes to the most important question of all. One may wonder how it fits with Jesus's words that "You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to mere children". I understand he is referring to the mysteries of faith rather than the existence of God, but it still seems potentially problematic to me that someone with a head for philosophy should be gifted a deeper insight into ultimate truth than someone without."

That same view could easily be presented in a scientific environment as well; its "unfair" that scientists should have a deeper understanding of how the world operates than those who aren't. I realise you said it was about "the most important question of all"; but then,if one wishes to know just how God's existence could be proved, then they do have to know some philosophy; it can even be extremely watered down as it often is. I get what you're saying, but there's nothing stop one from learning if they want.

Tony said...

but it still seems potentially problematic to me that someone with a head for philosophy should be gifted a deeper insight into ultimate truth than someone without.

Mao, I think it is just a part of the human condition that God gives everyone different gifts. To some he give prophecy, to some healing, to some leadership, so others subordinate roles. To some he gives great infused wisdom, to others great natural wisdom. His whole plan consists of different persons having different roles and different gifts for the good of all. So (as C.S. Lewis points out in Perelandra) God is all about making the differences he wants by creating persons with different gifts. And his ways are not our ways - because we are not God and we are not responsible for divine justice, only for human justice.

On another plane: although God gives to each the grace to turn to him in repentance of sin, he gives some just a few chances to err or get it right, while to others he gives many chances. Nobody can say "it is unfair that he gives John 10,000 times more than John deserves, while he only gives me 100 times more than I deserve." (cf Matt 20:1-16)

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Is this one of JPII's original ideas? I am not aware of a text where Aquinas distinguishes the end from the object. Maybe I've simply missed something, but I can't even see how the two things are different. I was under the impression that "intrinsically wrong" referred to the disordered intention of the agent, which would be objectively wrong regardless of the historical (accidental) circumstances. This is why, for example, someone can make an accidentally false statement like "Santa Claus exists" without necessarily lying, if they believe their own words. It's also why someone is not blameworthy if they are forcibly made to sin. Where am I off the mark?

Maol,

One may wonder how it fits with Jesus's words that "You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to mere children". I understand he is referring to the mysteries of faith rather than the existence of God, but it still seems potentially problematic to me that someone with a head for philosophy should be gifted a deeper insight into ultimate truth than someone without.

Actually, the traditional interpretation was that Jesus was referring to knowledge as such, rather than to matters of faith in particular. To take Aquinas's reading as an example, the "wise and learned" in question are those whose pride in their own abilities has prevented them from subjecting their intellects to God and to truth in general (ST IIb q162 a3 ro1). The "children" are the humble, who receive the full and unmuddied truth through revelation. However, using this passage to criticize other Christians is definitely overkill. It's essentially an attack on non-Christian (particularly Jewish and pagan) thinkers, who didn't or haven't submitted themselves to the Christian faith.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony,

I didn't mean to suggest that usury is defined as loans that are for consumption. That was simply an example of an area where many loans are usurious, though even here it is not cut and dry.

As you and Brandon allude to it is a complex area and there are not many simple, catch all rules, as I recall. The closest I recall is that it is wrong to claim interest simply for lending money itself, but even here there are complexities.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Anon,

I take it you mean this posting:

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/the-evil-god-challenge-and-classical.html#more

I think using the term discussing for what Long wrote in his latest post is a bit too charitable. I do seriously wonder how he, even today, someone who writes posts like that can be a qualified philosopher. Derrida makes more sense than that.

Glenn said...

Maolsheachlann,

it still seems potentially problematic to me that someone with a head for philosophy should be gifted a deeper insight into ultimate truth than someone without.

If it is true that there is a great or wide variation amongst individuals with respect to their depth of insight into ultimate truth, then it seems not unlikely that there will be some philosophically minded people whose insight is deeper than that of some non-philosophically minded people.

This isn't to say that a philosophically-minded person is, by virtue of his being philosophically minded, more likely to have an insight which is deeper than that of one who is not philosophically minded. Not at all. Indeed, one would think that being philosophically minded is, not unlike some other things, a double-edged sword; in any given case, i.e., with any given individual, it may be either an aid or a hindrance. (And, for some individuals, being philosophically minded may not have an influence or impact of any significant kind with respect to the depth of their insight into ultimate truth.)

If, however, one does have a deep insight into ultimate truth, then perhaps being philosophically minded will render one better able than non-philosophically minded people to communicate a little something of that truth to other likewise philosophically minded.

Glenn said...

(s/b "...other likewise philosophically minded people.")

Glenn said...

Re the sputtering indignation, aka "paroxysm of fury", let it be noted that "form 27B-6" and "cleaning woman" were preceded in time by "Susquehanna Hat Company".

Although I have contributed to the fun had with that kind of reaction, the fact is I myself have experienced reacting that way. I feel quite inept at putting it into words, and I suppose the best I can say about it is that it feels like one has been tasered by an invisible something.

An example (somewhat distant from God and ultimate truth): I was taking a class in Linear Programming quite a number of years ago. One student asked the professor to explain how to solve a problem from the homework assigned during the prior class. Sure, no problem. Fifteen minutes go by and the professor still isn't close to solving the problem. She's got 12 or 13 variables up there on the blackboard, and nearly everyone in the class looks like they're suffering from an impacted wisdom tooth or a severe migraine. I raise my hand. I'm called on. "This problem can be solved using just three variables." The professor looks stunned, but quickly recovers. "Yes. Well, we're doing it this way." We are? Yikes. Five minutes later the bell rings. Half the class stampedes for the door, and the other half rush over to my desk.

The professor also quickly comes over. "I'd like to see your solution." I show her my solution. She scrutinizes it, and, evidently, the light begins to dawn. She nods her head several times, then says, "Your solution is elegant."

Yes. Well, about three gallons of adrenaline are dumped into my system, and my heart rate leaps to somewhere around 200 beats per minutes. All in about three quarters of a nanosecond. I don't dare open my mouth for fear of the sputtering indignation that will ensue. I gather my things instead, and hastily walk out of the class.

What happened? I mean, most people would have felt flattered. "You're solution is elegant."

Ha. 'Elegant' my derriere.

This is what happened: I had had trouble with the exact same problem. I hadn't even a clue as to how to break into it. Hmm. What to do? I know. Use common sense. "This problem is in a text. Problems in a text are at the end of a section, and are meant to test one's knowledge of the material covered in the section just concluded. Material covered in a section often includes example problems. Maybe there's an example problem in the section just concluded which will help me to see how a problem of this type can be solved."

So I look back through the section, and -- lo and behold -- there is an example problem which -- heavenly days -- is an almost exact match for the actual problem I otherwise have no idea how to solve. I follow the pattern of the example problem, and in about 45 seconds have worked out the correct solution to the actual problem.

Other than following the pattern, did I know what I was doing? No.

Did I have anything that might even remotely be termed an understanding of the concepts involved? No.

(cont)

Glenn said...

Now, had the professor bothered herself to prepare for the class she was teaching, half of it would not have made a mad dash for the emergency room at the bell, and the other half would not have been tricked into thinking I was the resident math genius. And therein lies the crux of the matter.

When the professor had said, "You're solution is elegant," not only was she effectively saying that she hadn't prepared for the class, but that: a) either she couldn't care less about inflicting mental and psychic pain on her students, or that she was impervious to the fact that she had; and, b) 'twas better to falsely compliment a student who doesn't know what he's doing than to own up to the fact that she herself didn't know what she was doing. And that's why three gallons of adrenaline instantly roared into my system. **

Switching subjects, it is probably safe to say that it was an adrenaline dump which fueled the "paroxysm of fury" of Dr. Feser's "fellow Catholic academic". (Just try having a genuine paroxysm of fury without the adrenaline in one's system being above its normal level; very difficult, if at all possible, to do).

But what, precisely, triggered the adrenaline dump? Who knows? Maybe internally he was still buoyant from having reflected on Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12 the night before, and Dr. Feser's innocent and not inaccurate comment made for an untimely juxtaposition.

- - - - -

** My recounting of the matter is noticeably (not to mention highly) subjective. For example, there may have been a reason both rational and acceptable why the professor hadn't prepared or been able to prepare for the class, and to say that the she hadn't 'bothered' to prepare for it is to, as they say, assume a fact not in evidence.

Anonymous said...

RS

"I'm not aware of a text where Aquinas distinguishes the end from the object."

Uh...wow. Then you don't know the basic mechanics of Aquinas on voluntary action. ST I-II Q6-19 need to be read immediately. If you want to skip to a place where he is using the distinction, go to Q18.

Rob

rank sophist said...

Anon,

I've read them before. How is the object (the desired thing) distinct from the end (the desired thing)? There is only one final cause in each set of four causes.

Anonymous said...

When Dr. Feser replies to long I pray he makes use of this combox comment:


Well there's has certainly been an immense amount of explanation offered by theists to account for all the evil, or at least our inability to think of any reason why God would unleash it. This creates the comforting appearance that belief in a good God couldn't really be just, well, silly and straightforwardly empirically falsified, because after all so many very. very clever people have expounded such massive intellectual resources over millenia, cooking up all sorts of explanations and excuses in order to try to salvage the theory.

What the evil God challenge was partly designed to do was to get the theist to recognise, momentarily, that actually it is perfectly obvious with anyone with eyes to see that there's no such God. Just as it's perfectly obvious for anyone with eyes to see that there's no evil God.

Which it is.

Dissing the latter judgement as "intuition" is a bit like dissing as "intuition" the judgement of a jury rightly convicting someone on the basis of obvious and compelling evidence of their guilt, notwithstanding the fact that the defence has managed to cook up a mountain of cock-and-bull stories to try to neutralize that evidence.

Glenn said...

Rank,

I've read them before. How is the object (the desired thing) distinct from the end (the desired thing)?

1. If 'object' and 'end' are one and the same, what might account for Aquinas having treated as two separate inquiries:

a) "Whether the good or evil of a human action is derived from its object?" (ST I-II Q18 A2); and,

b) "Whether [the good or evil of a human action] is derived from the end?" (ST I-II Q18 A4)?

2. Does not the fact that a) and b) above are treated by Aquinas as two separate inquiries serve as a strong indication that he saw a distinction between 'object' and 'end'?

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I've read them before."

Well, then you are "aware of a text where Aquinas distinguishes the end from the object," right?

"How is the object (the desired thing) distinct from the end (the desired thing)?"

See here.

"I was under the impression that 'intrinsically wrong' referred to the disordered intention of the agent."

As you'll see if you follow the above link, you have this backwards: intrinsic wrongness has to do with the object of the act, not the end toward which the intention aims. Some things are intrinsically wrong even if they're done with good intentions.

Anonymous said...

@Other Anon

Who is Long? Do you mean Law?

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Indeed, but I can't see how they're different, even going back and re-reading the relevant passages. Genuinely confused here.

Scott,

Thanks for the link, but I'm still confused. I was under the impression that the intention and the object were identical, insofar as an intention toward something is a final cause, and insofar as a final cause is an extrinsic principle of movement (i.e. an object). As a result, I thought that there was a twofold split in human actions: the intention/object/goal and the action made toward it. Obviously, one can approach the same external thing with different dispositions, but I thought that this changed amounted to an entirely different intention/object.

The link seems to suggest that this reading is off, but I've understood Aquinas this way for so long (probably about a year) that I'm having a hard time changing gears. I still can't see how an object and an end could be different, or where the carrying-out of the action is accounted for. Do you have a more concrete example?

Step2 said...

RS,
The distinction hinges on the difference between intent and knowledge. Zippy has some examples.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me there's a problem in Thomas about "intentions" of the will. Before we cause a non-existent good to come into actual existence, we have an image of it and a concept of it in our minds, and these are *cognitive* intentionalities.

When we will to cause such a possible being to come into actual existence that is an *intention of the will*. It is also said to be our "end".

However, the intentional existence of that end is NOT The actual end of the whole process. If it were, then merely intending it would bring it into existence. The objective end is the termination of the whole process and must be distinguished from the "end" which first represents it in the mind.

There are several semantic problems here, and, I fear, a couple of ontological ones too.

Tony said...

S.T.: The object is not the matter "of which" (a thing is made), but the matter "about which" (something is done); and stands in relation to the act as its form, as it were, through giving it its species.

Rank, you are not wrong in understanding that the "object" as both St. Tom and JPII use the term still involves a kind of intentionality, because the object must be known and chosen. What is distinct about the object as compared to the "end" or final cause is precisely the intrinsic versus extrinsic aspect of the causality.

The end is always a "that for the sake of" that is logically distinct from the action itself. Very often, the "intent" or "end" under this treatment is something that at least logically, if not actually, can subsist or not subsist if the action is completed. For example, suppose you run, including running a race "for the sake of health". It is possible that you will be healthy without running - some people are. It is also possible that you will be UNhealthy if you run this race - if you have a heart attack and die. The health is extrinsic to the action itself.

Contrariwise, the "object" intrinsically and logically MUST ALWAYS be present or completed at the end of the act if the act is not impeded or defected by obstructive causes. If your act is "go to the store" for "the sake of bread", you definitively will be AT the store at the end of the act of "going" if you aren't impeded - even if they are out of bread. The "that for the sake of which" is logically distinct from the action itself. The object is logically - or formally - the consummation of the action as such, and thus cannot possibly be separate from the action as complete.

If you kill someone to get their money, "that for the sake of which" is clearly "get their money", and the action itself - the killing - is completed when the guy is dead. "To kill" is the object, not the end. So the dead guy is in a sense the proximate end of the act and that for the sake of which is the more remote end - proximately the object present is AT the ending of the action - it is the terminus. But it is necessary to keep that "in a sense" when using the terms that way. More properly, "to kill" the guy is the very nature of the act, which is an intrinsic (formal) principle to "the act", of which the exterior bodily motion is the material principle.

St. Tom again: Now since the object is in some way the effect of the active power, it follows that it is the term of its action, and consequently that it gives it its form and species,

The "term" of the action, that about which the action is, is distinct from the purpose for which.

Tony said...

Step2, Zippy's account fails to account for St. Thomas's own acceptance of the "object" including within it the proximate end (terminus) of the act as chosen, which means as known. Unless he thinks that JPII was repudiating St. Thomas's explicit teaching, which nobody else thinks.

zippycatholic said...

Zippy's account fails to account for St. Thomas's own acceptance of the "object" including within it the proximate end (terminus) of the act as chosen, which means as known.

That misrepresents my view. The object of the act is the objective behaviour chosen in the will. (That's what "proximate end" means: the objective behaviour one chooses to enact). If the acting subject suffers from a defect of knowledge (e.g. he is unaware that the gun is a toy gun), then the behaviour he chooses in the will is not identical to what a third party observer sees. But the object of the act is always the objective behaviour chosen in the will, independent of the reasons why it is chosen.

Glenn said...

zippycatholic,

That misrepresents my view. The object of the act is the objective behaviour chosen in the will. (That's what "proximate end" means: the objective behaviour one chooses to enact). If the acting subject suffers from a defect of knowledge (e.g. he is unaware that the gun is a toy gun), then the behaviour he chooses in the will is not identical to what a third party observer sees. But the object of the act is always the objective behaviour chosen in the will, independent of the reasons why it is chosen.

One problem with this is that you start with an assertion which has Tony's comment misrepresenting your view, and end with a position which validates Tony's representation of your view, i.e., you say that Tony is wrong, but prove that Tony is right.

Another problem with it is that he in whose will the 'object of the act' (OA) is chosen is not an independent third-party observer, and however much an independent third-party observer may view or consider the chosen OA as a thing-in-itself (i.e., as it is in and of itself), unattached in any way to any end, for the one who does the choosing the OA is not at all wholly independent of the end informing the choice--for upon being chosen the OA then has in it something of the end of the one who chooses it. This is why, as CCC 1753 puts it, "an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving)."

zippycatholic said...

Glenn:
Another problem with it is that he in whose will the 'object of the act' (OA) is chosen is not an independent third-party observer...

Right. You agree with me and then make a pretense of disagreeing, at least on that particular point.

The object of the act is, as Veritatis Splendour confirms (using the term "behaviour" 61 times), the behaviour chosen by the acting subject. This is confirmed in other Magisterial documents and is certainly consistent with Aquinas, as far as I can tell.

Tony said...

Zippy, I a apologize for misrepresenting your thought here. Somehow I misunderstood one of your examples.

You present the example: a married man who sleeps with a woman who is not his wife.

Suppose he suffers from a defect of knowledge: that is, he really thinks that she is his wife. In this case he is not guilty of moral evil. But he has still chosen an objectively evil action: he made a mistake. Legitimate mistakes are always accompanied by regret upon their discovery and never take on the status of a morally good act. They at best remain, in the words of the Catholic magisterium, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. It is not a sin strictly speaking but it is still accompanied by regret and remorse.


I don't see how you say it is not a sin strictly speaking but is still accompanied by remorse. St. Thomas says that non-negligent ignorance makes the act involuntary, and that which is involuntary is not sinful at all. And we have remorse only for those things that are sinful. (I don't quibble with regret, since you can regret being placed in ill circumstances beyond your power.)

Whereas the previous question is the same as inquiring "whether an erring conscience binds"; so this question is the same as inquiring "whether an erring conscience excuses."...But if the error arise from ignorance of some circumstance, and without any negligence, so that it cause the act to be involuntary, then that error of reason or conscience excuses the will, that abides by that erring reason, from being evil...But if a man's reason, errs in mistaking another for his wife, and if he wish to give her her right when she asks for it, his will is excused from being evil: because this error arises from ignorance of a circumstance, which ignorance excuses, and causes the act to be involuntary.

Tony said...

Zippy: Notice that the object of the act is objective. When a moral theologian correctly uses the term “object” in reference to a human act, the thing he is referring to is the objective part of the act. Intentions – whether proximate, remote, or otherwise – are not objective. Intentions are subjective, and are not part of the object of a human act.

St. Thomas: Now in human actions, good and evil are predicated in reference to the reason; because as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv), "the good of man is to be in accordance with reason," and evil is "to be against reason." For that is good for a thing which suits it in regard to its form; and evil, that which is against the order of its form. It is therefore evident that the difference of good and evil considered in reference to the object is an essential difference in relation to reason; that is to say, according as the object is suitable or unsuitable to reason. Now certain actions are called human or moral, inasmuch as they proceed from the reason. Consequently it is evident that good and evil diversify the species in human actions; since essential differences cause a difference of species. ...

As stated above (1,2), the goodness of the will depends properly on the object. Now the will's object is proposed to it by reason. Because the good understood is the proportionate object of the will; while sensitive or imaginary good is proportionate not to the will but to the sensitive appetite: since the will can tend to the universal good, which reason apprehends; whereas the sensitive appetite tends only to the particular good, apprehended by the sensitive power. Therefore the goodness of the will depends on reason, in the same way as it depends on the object...

They say, therefore, that reason or conscience when erring in matters of indifference, either by commanding or by forbidding them, binds: so that the will which is at variance with that erring reason is evil and sinful. But they say that when reason or conscience errs in commanding what is evil in itself, or in forbidding what isgood in itself and necessary for salvation, it does not bind; wherefore in such cases the will which is at variance with erring reason or conscience is not evil.
But this is unreasonable. For in matters of indifference, the will that is at variance with erring reason or conscience, is evil in some way on account of the object, on which the goodness or malice of the will depends; not indeed on account of the object according as it is in its own nature; but according as it is accidentally apprehended by reason as something evil to do or to avoid. And since the object of the will is that which is proposed by the reason, as stated above (Article 3), from the very fact that a thing is proposed by the reason as being evil, the will by tending thereto becomes evil. And this is the case not only in indifferent matters, but also in those that are good or evil in themselves. For not only indifferent matters can received the character of goodness or malice accidentally; but also that which is good, can receive the character of evil, or that which is evil, can receive the character of goodness, on account of the reason apprehending it as such. For instance, to refrain from fornication is good: yet the will does not tend to this good except in so far as it is proposed by the reason. If, therefore, the erring reason propose it as an evil, the will tends to it as to something evil. Consequently the will is evil, because it wills evil, not indeed that which is evil in itself, but that which is evil accidentally, through being apprehended as such by the reason.

Glenn said...

zippycatholic,

Glenn: Another problem with it is that he in whose will the 'object of the act' (OA) is chosen is not an independent third-party observer...

Right. You agree with me and then make a pretense of disagreeing, at least on that particular point.


Yes, that is correct--he in whose will the 'object of the act' (OA) is chosen is not an independent third-party observer.

He makes the choice he makes because he thinks, sees, feels or believes that it is is conducive to the attainment of his end.

Since he thinks, sees, feels or believes that it is conducive to the attainment of his end, he has a vested interest in the choice.

And his having a vested interest in the choice that he makes is what makes him not -- i.e., disqualifies him as -- an independent third-party observer.

Tony said...

"I don't think that word means what you think it means."

"Objective", that is. In this context.

You seem to be trying to make an "objective fact" refer to the act in the same way as the Object of the Act does. That would be unobjectionable, (ha) if there was somewhere in Veritatis Splendor where JPII used "objective" in that fashion. He doesn't. The word "objective" appears 18 times, and in none of them, not even the famous paragraph 78, does he use the word to conjoin "objective truth" to the "object of the act" simply, full stop. And given what St. Thomas says (shown above), of course he wouldn't. St. Thomas explicitly says that an error in the reason about the "objective fact" does not constitute the object of the act: For not only indifferent matters can received the character of goodness or malice accidentally; but also that which is good, can receive the character of evil, or that which is evil, can receive the character of goodness, on account of the reason apprehending it as such. .

When you say "he has chosen an objectively evil act" you run up against St. Thomas, who says the act is involuntary, the will is not not evil.

To the extent that the reason is not mistaken (the end, the place, time, etc), the act as chosen is good, so no defect in the act or the will comes from these. To the extent that the reason is mistaken, the act is not voluntary. To say that "he has chosen an objectively evil act" as if that even bears on the object of the act is to ignore that every aspect of the quasi-choice that was (quasi) voluntary was good, and the aspect that was evil, was evil APART FROM the manner of its being the object of the act - in HIS reason. The entire evil, so far as there is evil, is apart from his reason. But the object of the act is in the act as apprehended by the reason.

Tony said...

Or, to unravel it a bit differently:

To the extent there was an object of the act in the reason, the object of the act was not disordered.

To the extent the object in the reason departed from reality because of a mistake, the act was not a chosen human act.

You cannot use "chosen" and "objectively evil" to categorize the act at the same time. Each one is valid, but only in different respects.

Glenn said...

Rank,

I haven't forgotten you. I'm thinking that all I'm going to do in response to your last comment is quote a single line from ST. But I first want to be sure that that is all I'm going to do, i.e., that I feel comfortable with doing nothing more than that.

zippycatholic said...

I think my posts on the subject cover my views already, including the various objections to it, and I am not going to use Ed's comboxes to rehash all that. It isn't nearly as hard as people try to make it. If Bob walks in on Fred having sex with his (Bob's) wife, as long as Fred isn't suffering from a defect of knowledge they all three know that Fred is committing adultery. We don't have to ask why Fred did it in order to know that his chosen behaviour is adultery (an intrinsically immoral species of behaviour), and we just have to know that he isn't suffering from a defect of knowledge in order to know that it is imputable. And sure, evil intentions are also, independently from the object (chosen behaviour), sufficient to render an otherwise neutral act evil.

On this point:

To the extent the object in the reason departed from reality because of a mistake, the act was not a chosen human act.

Sure, but it is still a disorder in relation to the truth about the good, and it is wrong to treat even a mistake, resulting from a defect of knowledge (as opposed to will), as equivalent to a good act.

Veritatis Splendour:
It is never acceptable to confuse a "subjective" error about moral good with the "objective" truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone is watching the combox discussion on Stephen Law's blog, but it seems to me Dr. Feser barely needs to respond to him.

I have a low opinion of many professional professors, but Law is something else. He argues like a slightly more articulate version of a common Gnu, including playing transparent games and being downright dishonest.

FZ said...

I've been checking out the discussion. I wouldn't say that Law is that bad. But, if we grant that classical theism is true for the sake of argument, I don't think his subsequent arguments are convincing. I would have liked to see Mr. Bougis discuss the matter further, but it seems like he has other things to blog about.

Tony said...

but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

Sure, as long we say that the disorder is not a moral disorder of the human will or the human act.

Anonymous, Stephen Law was dealt with before, here for example.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/crickets-still-chirping.html

He was unable to understand the classical notion of a God, and his arguments were (at the very best) too simplistic to be granted any real weight.

Anonymous said...

Law basically admitted his basic argument is an appeal to intuitions about gratuitous suffering in the world.

He also was extremely evasive and obscurantist - not to mention fallacious, relying on emptry rhetoric a good deal and he even appeals at one point to the fact most professional philosophers are not Classical Theists - in a way Feser never is. At times he was even dishonest, using deliberately out of context quotes and the like. That is pretty bad.

Law also patently has very interest and knowledge about Classical Theism or the history of Western religious thought and philosohpy.

The whole notion of his evil God is nonsense once one starts pointing out that evil is privation and God is the Supreme Good. There can then be no parallel between his position and that of Classical Theism. He simply ignores this and never really addresses it.

As I said, he just slunk back to a position of asserting that there is supposedly gratuitous evil in the world, ignoring completely the Classical Theist perspective.

Can you imagine Feser acting like that?

Step2 said...

Tony,
My own take on Zippy's definition is that it is designed to eviscerate the usual denials that accompany immoral behavior, most importantly it prevents any change of focus to "greater good" utilitarian type justifications. Which is a fairly critical weapon if you are in a war against modern utilitarian ethics.

Glenn said...

Rank,

I'll quote three lines (sentences) rather than one:

o [I]n a voluntary action, there is a twofold action, viz. the interior action of the will, and the external action: and each of these actions has its object. The end is properly the object of the interior act of the will: while the object of the external action, is that on which the action is brought to bear. Therefore just as the external action takes its species from the object on which it bears; so the interior act of the will takes its species from the end, as from its own proper object. -- ST I-II, q. 18, a. 8

Glenn said...

Wrong reference; s/b ST I-II, q. 18, a. 6

rank sophist said...

Thanks for the information, guys. Still a few questions.

Tony,

If you kill someone to get their money, "that for the sake of which" is clearly "get their money", and the action itself - the killing - is completed when the guy is dead. "To kill" is the object, not the end.

This seems to suggest that an action's final cause is always an abstract principle and never a concrete thing. Is this correct? Even plants and animals have their actions directed by abstract principles separate from the things in which they seek them? For example, the end of a tree seeking water is not "seeking water" but "seeking sustenance", with the "seeking water" part as the object.

If this is the case, then I can see why some moral evils could be considered intrinsically wrong while others could not. However, I can also see how introducing a separation between the object and the end could create a very dangerous tendency toward moral relativism, at least on certain issues. Consider polygamy or incest. These things cannot be called objectively wrong (i.e. wrong by the object, inherently unsuited) because they were at different times permitted by God. But this seems to undermine any possible natural law argument against them. All that you have left is the argument from the end, which rests on conscience. In other words, such actions can't be morally undertaken if one believes them to be wrong, and those who accept the teaching of the Christian tradition must assent to the belief that they are (currently) wrong. If there were some kind of secularist push for polygamy or incest (or incestuous polygamy!), though, it seems like the natural lawyer would be incapable of answering them with more than vaguely probable arguments.

Or take the example of child marriage. Seemingly this is a disgusting and unnatural practice, but the object on its own (taking a wife capable of childbirth) appears to be without defect. Indeed, the practice was common throughout much of early Christian history. How would a natural lawyer respond to a hypothetical secularist push for child marriage, if at all? Or, to switch gears a bit, how could one use natural law to argue against envy? Seemingly the object of envy is a desire to possess what someone else has. But, as Aquinas mentions, this desire can manifest itself as envy or as "zeal". It seems impossible for natural law to get a foothold here, since the object is not inherently unsuited. How could a natural lawyer respond to a secularist push for envy, along the lines of Boris Johnson's recent speech?

I apologize if the above is confused or if the answers to my questions are obvious. I had to write it in a bit of a rush, and I'm still trying to pick up the pieces after my previous understanding of this topic was blown to bits.

Anonymous said...

Law's challenge stops the second one says that one won't take good in the world as prima facie prephilosophical evidence against an evil god (which the classical theist, and other theists for that matter, are free to do). Then all Law can do is insist on the evidential problem of evil, which is, of course, nothing new. It's a bit like an atheist Gish gallop.

Timotheos said...

On a random topic, which this post reminded me of, could anyone point me in the direction of an expose of Garrigou-Lagrange’s argument for the principle of sufficient reason by reductio ad absurdum to the principle of non-contraction which he gave in the first volume of his (really good) book God: His Existence and Nature? (If you’re taking requests for posts Dr. Feser, this would be mine)

His argument is a little too subtle for my lights, so I would appreciate any explanation that anyone could provide.

Related to this side-topic, hands down my favorite line from the OP was this one, “The point of Garrigou-Lagrange’s Reality , it seems, was to provide a deceptively pious dust jacket within which to hide your copy of The Antichrist. Who knew?”

It’s just too classic!

Brandon said...

Timotheos,

It's possible that you already know about it, but just in case --there's been some discussion of precisely this recently at thomistica.net . All the people there are top-notch (they are not completely in agreement about how to evaluate the argument).

Timotheos said...

@ Brandon

Thanks for the heads up, but I have already seen the discussion at Thomistica. (Feser linked to it awhile back)

Unfortunately, as far as I have seen, the commenters never really discuss the substance of the argument, but talk about its validity within the Thomistic framework and whether it borrows too much from Leibniz styled-rationalism.

The OP does discuss it briefly, but doesn’t really explore the argument any more than Lagrange did in his book, and so the OP didn’t really help my understanding any.

I tentatively think I have an understanding of it, but I’m a little unsure of the meaning of some of the terms. Specifically, I’m not sure what exactly Lagrange meant by “real relation.” Any further information you may have would be appreciated.

Tony said...

Rank, I really don't get your point. On the simple end, take this:

Or take the example of child marriage. Seemingly this is a disgusting and unnatural practice, but the object on its own (taking a wife capable of childbirth) appears to be without defect.

If you mean by "child" a girl of 9, clearly she does not meet the necessary criterion for bearing a child. If you mean by "child" a girl of 15, she probably does. But marriage isn't solely about bearing children, (or infertile marriages would be null), it is also about the union of spouses. And so there cannot (just for example) be a meaningful union of minds, hearts, and affections of a girl of 15 and a man of 55, if they are both normal. But there can of a girl of 15 and a boy of 16. Likewise, a marriage is about the establishment of a new family, and by definition a family is supposed to be a relatively independent, stable establishment of a social unit ("relatively" being dependent on mutually supporting social structures like extended family). So there can be no "natural" marriage of 2 people too young to approach being financially stable unit. So in ancient times (i.e. until about the 1800's in about 4/5 of the world) the marriage of the two latter was not considered "unnatural" in the least. Taking the general capacities of body, intellect, and affective powers, there is nothing unnatural about a 15 year old girl being properly capable of marriage.

But you can see that once society changes by reducing the immediacy of support structures such as extended family, and then itself becomes too complex for 16 year old boys to be financially stable in even an approach toward independence, the outward conditions necessary for marriage have changed. Not surprisingly, then, due to such social parameters lasting many decades, and other social adaptive conditions (like the format of schools geared to age 18), the psychological and emotional readiness of the typical 15-year old girl is normally not that of a person ready for marriage. But there is nothing "of nature" in that situation, it is almost wholly cultural.

So, no, there isn't any logical difficulty in a natural lawyer accepting the marriages of 15-year old girls in 1800 and not accepting them now.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

So the natural lawyer appeals to historical circumstances when the object is not obviously unsuited. Thanks for clarifying.

Tony said...

Consider polygamy or incest. These things cannot be called objectively wrong (i.e. wrong by the object, inherently unsuited) because they were at different times permitted by God.

Well, you get into some strenuous distinctions. I think it is St. Thomas, though I don't remember where, who says that the natural law on marriage has primary precepts and secondary precepts. The primary precepts include that marriage is between a man and a woman. Secondary precepts say that it is unitary (not polygamous). So, although polygamy is not against the primary precepts, it is still not perfectly in accordance with the entirety of the natural law. And the secondary precepts are not as readily apprehended, so it is not as obvious to all peoples as some other precepts of the natural law.

When you say polygamy was "allowed" by God, I seem to recall that there is a variety of opinions in the Fathers on how to consider polygamy in the Old Testament times. Allowing, condoning, accepting, and commanding all mean different things.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I know it is an aside, but I've always found the argument that so called gay marriage might lead to polygamy strange - surely, polygamy is better than homosexual marriage?

Timotheos said...

@ Jeremy Taylor

“I've always found the argument that so called gay marriage might lead to polygamy strange - surely, polygamy is better than homosexual marriage?”

Agreed, under classical conceptions of morality, that argument is indeed strange; it looks completely backwards. But the argument as you have put it is almost never addressed to those audiences; instead, it is usually addressed to a modern liberal audience. And that is where it has some real teeth, since, while most moderns want to support gay marriage, they are usually horrified, or at least a little queasy, about the idea of polygamy.

This is another one of those strange inconsistencies you get from modern liberals; having multiple sexual “partners”, even at the same time, is okay, but having multiple brides and grooms, even with all of the members’ knowledge and consent, is something to frown upon. I think the reason they don’t like polygamy is because of their Feminist leanings, since polygamy has been deemed an institution of men, even when the females consent, since, you know, they only agreed to the deal because of those greedy men forcing them to!

Still, the main point is that the argument only really works when it is brought against a broadly modern-liberal conception of mortality.

Anonymous said...

It may not be necessary for a proof of the Pythagorean theorem to start from Jesus. But it would be helpful for a Christian proof. Indeed, if we explained why we had no need for Jesus to understand the Pythagorean theorem, we would be making an error. Since we know that Christ is the logos and source of morality and geometry, we know that any complete accounting for these things will derive from Jesus. Hence, it seems like a Christian check for error is to see whether theories purport to be complete without Christ.

It was Ratzinger, I believe, who pointed out that certain traditions of natural law theory lead people away from Jesus because of they tend to suggest that morality can be understood without reference to him. I don't think he counts as an anti-intellectual.

The question for a Christian about natural law is not necessarily whether it is a good theory, but ultimately whether it is a good Christian theory. If natural law does not contact with Christ then that counts against it as a good Christian theory.

Tony said...

Indeed, if we explained why we had no need for Jesus to understand the Pythagorean theorem, we would be making an error. Since we know that Christ is the logos and source of morality and geometry, we know that any complete accounting for these things will derive from Jesus.

"An accounting" and "a complete accounting" are simply not the same thing. You are speaking as if there is no such thing as distinct disciplines in human studies.

Geometry is distinct from biology and distinct from metaphysics even though A COMPLETE ACCOUNTING of every truth knowable to man cannot be had without all three. To study objects insofar as they are extended does not require a complete accounting for how and from Whom extension first arises, any more than studying how water is composed chemically requires studying the psychological effects of water on people at a beach. One does not need to understand morality to understand that the whole is greater than the proper part.

Further, there is an order of proceeding in studies, you cannot study everything at once. It is appropriate to study the more tractable, more accessible truths before tackling the more abstract ones. Geometry is an excellent preparation before studying metaphysics. And one cannot understand the relationship of Jesus Christ the Logos to geometrical truths without metaphysics.

No decent natural law theory I have ever heard of proposes that natural law or morality can be known in its entirety without placing man in relation to God. TRUE natural law insists that piety is one of the virtues.

The question for a Christian about natural law is not necessarily whether it is a good theory, but ultimately whether it is a good Christian theory.

Actually, the first question for a Christian about natural law is whether it is TRUE. If a given accounting of natural law is true, then ipso facto it is a good theory. That's basic the measure of value of a "good theory". Naturally, a full accounting of morality will include Christ, or it won't be true as a full accounting.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Lots of natural law theories propose that natural law can be known without placing man in relation to God. Even more natural law theories do not make the necessary relation clear. Ratzinger had in mind those that informed 19th and early 20th century confessional casuistry. I have no idea whether you account these "decent" natural law theories but many people consider the new natural law school of George and Grisez to be decent.

But on your account, I do not understand why you wouldn't embrace them. They contend, as you do, that ethics and justice are separate fields that can be understood without reference to Jesus Christ.

If you read what I wrote, I did not deny the separateness of academic fields. I denied that the academic field of Christian theories could be forwarded without reference to Christ. Doesn't sound very controversial to me.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

I confess to being somewhat baffled, and I hope you don't mind my asking: how might a 'Christian proof' of the Pythagorean theorem unfold?