Saturday, December 28, 2019

Overestimating human responsibility


One of the many pernicious aspects of modern political life is the tendency, every time something bad happens, to look for someone to blame – or, where someone is to blame, to try to extend the blame to people who can’t reasonably be held responsible.  “It’s the Republicans’ fault!” “It’s the Democrats’ fault!” “It’s the NRA’s fault!”  “It’s the environmentalists’ fault!” “It’s the government’s fault!” “It’s the corporations’ fault!” “We need new legislation!”  “We need an investigation!”

Naturally, sometimes those things are true.  But sometimes they’re not.  Sometimes it’s no one’s fault.  Sometimes nothing is to be done.  Sometimes no new legislation is needed, and enforcement of existing legislation is already as good as can reasonably be expected.  The reason is that human action and legislation obviously cannot possibly stop every bad thing from occurring.  Sometimes “shit happens” and that’s that.

Commenting on the characterization of conservatism as a “politics of imperfection” in his book A Case for Conservatism, John Kekes writes:

[One] respect in which the politics of imperfection is a misleading label is its suggestion that the imperfection is in human beings.  Now conservatives certainly think that human beings are responsible for much evil, but to think only that is shallow.  The prevalence of evil reflects not just a human propensity for evil, but also a contingency that influences what propensities human beings have and develop, and thus influences human affairs independently of human intentions.  The human propensity for evil is itself a manifestation of this deeper and more pervasive contingency, which operates through genetic inheritance, environmental factors, the confluence of events that places people at certain places at certain times, the crimes, accidents, pieces of fortune and misfortune that happen or do not happen to them, the historical period, society, and family into which they are born, and so forth.  The same contingency also affects people because others, whom they love and depend on, and with whom their lives are intertwined in other ways, are as subject to it as they are themselves…

[W]hether the balance of good and evil propensities and their realization in people tilts one way or another is a contingent matter over which human beings and the political arrangements they make have insufficient controlThe chief reason for this is that the human efforts to control contingency are themselves subject to the very contingency they aim to control. (pp. 42-43)

That last line is crucial.  The problem is a problem in principle and not one that can be legislated away or solved technologically, because such remedies, being subject to the same pitfalls that are being remedied, can only ever kick the problem back a stage.

The braindead response to this is to dismiss it as a cynical rationalization for complacency and inaction.  The problem Kekes describes is either real or it is not.  If it is not, then the right way to answer the conservative is to show where Kekes’s argument goes wrong, not to question conservative motives.  And if the problem is real (as, of course, it obviously is) then questioning conservative motives doesn’t somehow make it less real.

Someone might respond by saying that even though it is true that we cannot solve every problem through legislation or technology, it is still better to act as if we can.  For that way we can at least make things better, even if not perfect, and we will not overlook potential solutions that we are bound to miss if we give up too soon and don’t even bother looking for them. 

But the problem with this attitude is that it forgets that vices come in pairs.  If there is danger in giving up too soon, there is also danger in going to the opposite extreme of a stubbornly naïve optimism that cannot see that a cause is hopeless and that it’s better to cut one’s losses.  An insistence on searching for solutions where there are none is a recipe for wasting time, resources, and emotional energy.  It is also bound to exacerbate the demagoguery and factionalism to which democratic politics is already prone.  A politician who promises a phony legislative solution to a problem has an obvious advantage over one who frankly acknowledges that the problem can only be managed rather than solved.  He also has an incentive to demonize those who oppose his pseudo-solution as the selfish and irrational enemies of progress.

Democratic politics is indeed one of the chief sources of the illusion that for every problem, someone is to blame.  There is simply too great a political advantage to be gained in finding a way to blame one’s opponents for a problem, or at least for standing in the way of a purported legislative solution, for this illusion not to take deep root in a democratic polity.  And of course, conservative politicians too can be guilty of fostering this illusion, precisely because they are politicians.

Secularism can be another source of the illusion.  It is easier to accept the fact that some problems are simply part of the human condition, and thus cannot be blamed on anyone, when your heart isn’t set on this life in the first place, but instead looks forward to an afterlife.  By contrast, if you think that this life is all there is, then the fact that some of its miseries cannot be remedied can be a source of despair.  It will be tempting to want to believe that there is always a solution, and consequently a tendency to demonize those who deny that there is.

However, it would be foolish to suppose that secularism must lead to this outcome, or that religion cannot in its own way sometimes foster the illusion that someone is always to blame.  Indeed, some irreligious people might be less prone to the illusion.  If you think that there is no benevolent creator and no divine providence, you might be more rather than less inclined to think that much of the evil that occurs is simply the inevitable result of forces outside of anyone’s control.  (It is worth noting in this connection that Kekes himself, though conservative, is not religious.) 

Religious people can also be inclined to overestimate human responsibility for evil, as a consequence of having too crude an understanding of the doctrine of original sin.  Elsewhere I’ve discussed what I think is the correct way to understand the doctrine.  The penalty of original sin is essentially a privation rather than a positive harm, and in particular a privation of supernatural goods – that is to say, goods which go beyond our nature, goods to which our nature does not incline or entitle us, but which God would have granted us anyway had our first parents not failed to meet the conditions for their reception.  Specifically, these goods are the beatific vision, and special divine assistance to remedy the limitations of our nature.  

The latter is the one most relevant to the topic of this post.  Human nature of itself is good, but it is severely limited.  For example, given our dependence on bodies, we are severely limited in knowledge.  We have to learn things through sense organs, and what we learn is highly contingent on exactly where we happen to be in space and time and on what people we encounter.  It also requires not only that our sense organs function properly, but that our brains do as well (since brain activity is a necessary condition for the normal functioning of our cognitive processes, even if it is not, for the Thomist, a sufficient condition).  If we are in the wrong place at the wrong time or know the wrong people, or if our faculties malfunction, we are bound to fall into error, and these errors will compound over time as other errors are added to them, mistaken inferences are drawn, etc.  And this would be true even apart from any sins we might commit.  It is simply a byproduct our limitations.

But we would be bound to fall into sin too.  Material systems, being material, are bound over time to malfunction in various ways, and the human body is no different from any other in this regard.  Not only will our cognitive faculties fail to function properly from time to time, but so too would our affective faculties.  We would be prone to occasional excess or deficiency in anger, sexual desire, hunger, thirst, and so on, and this would make it easier for us to choose from time to time to do the wrong thing. 

Naturally, we would also be subject to various harms from without – to disease, bodily injury, predation from other creatures, the lack of resources with which to provide food or shelter for ourselves, and so on.  Now, all of this would have been remedied by special divine assistance had our first parents not failed their test.  Our cognitive faculties would have been supplemented so that their limitations would not lead us into error.  The potential causes of excess and deficiency in our affective states would have been counteracted so that these disordered passions would not arise and tempt us to sin.  There would have been no absence of the resources needed to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves, our bodies would have been protected from invasion by parasites or predation by other animals, and so on.

The penalty of original sin involves the loss of all of this special assistance, and that is crucial for understanding what it means to say that human suffering is the result of original sin.  Some people seem to think that what that means is that every bad thing that happens to us is somehow positively caused by what our first parents did (like a kind of karmic penalty), or that it is the direct infliction on us of some harm (by God as punishment, or by demons), or that human beings have as a result of the Fall all become somehow sociopathic deep down, our every action the product of some wicked motive in disguise.  In short, there is a tendency to think that original sin entails some malign agency behind every bad thing that happens, and some malignity to all human agency.

But that is a misunderstanding.  When a person slips and falls off a cliff or contracts a disease or loses all his money in the stock market, the doctrine of original sin does not entail that those specific harms were merited as punishment (by him or by our first parents), or that a demonic agency is responsible for them, or that they were somehow the inevitable end of a karmic causal chain that began with Adam and Eve.  All it entails is that misfortunes of this sort, some of which happen as nature takes its course and without anyone making them happen, would have been prevented had our first parents not lost the special divine help they were offered. 

The doctrine also does not entail that there is no goodness of any kind in anything anyone does – for example, that even a mother who breastfeeds a child or a father playing catch with his son are somehow really deep down moved to do these things by some purely selfish and evil motive, rather than by natural affection or kindness.  When one supposes that the doctrine of original sin does entail this, it can lead to an excessive suspicion of all human motives.  Human action can come to seem so malign that is easier to fall into the trap of thinking that when something bad happens, someone somewhere is to blame, or that those who oppose some proposed remedy must have evil motivations.

92 comments:

  1. The doctrine also does not entail that there is no goodness of any kind in anything anyone does – for example, that even a mother who breastfeeds a child or a father playing catch with his son are somehow really deep down moved to do these things by some purely selfish and evil motive, rather than by natural affection or kindness.

    This is a point of disagreement with many Protestants. I'm not clear exactly where among Protestants that line is drawn. I know Calvinists tend to fall on one side; in recent decades Evangelicals seem to as well. But I also know that Anglicans didn't, back to Hooker.

    Anyone have a better picture of Protestant taxonomy?

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    1. With Calvinists especially, it depends on what mood you catch them in: Because of "forensic justice", they'll say that you're declared, but not made, righteous so none of you works (playing catch with your son or what have ya) matter. When you point out that that would have the justified sinner doing sanctification by their own power, they'll then say that the sinner is made righteous by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in sanctification that happens at the same time as the supposedly "forensic" justification. Sound confusing? It's meant to be.

      Bottom line is they believe the same thing Trent taught in session 6, they just use the words differently (justification is more narrow in Protestant theology). And, of course, for Protestants or Catholics, prior to sanctifying grace no natural act has salvific value.

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    2. "When you point out that that would have the justified sinner doing sanctification by their own power" Isn't that why Calvinists have such a strong emphasis on predestination? That a free will choice to accept God's gift of salvation would itself be a "work", therefore, in order to truly be a gift, salvation must be the work of God alone & not based on a human choice?

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    3. @SpergBurglar:

      Yes. Thus the charge that Calvinism creates a robotic universe (Luther was actually stricter about this than was Calvin; Lutherans actually follow Melanchthon). So God creates robots and them "saves" them. Ho hum.

      It really seems like a waste of time for Calvinists to talk about "faith alone" and all that when really their position is just "regeneration alone". God regenerates a robot, and then the robot has faith. So?

      Now Calvinists will argue with my characterization, but if their talk of sovereignty doesn't mean what it says, then it doesn't give us any real information at all and they owe us some explanation of how they aren't violating their own claims.

      The Catholic position is that grace moves us to the acceptance of grace, which leads into the discussion of how conformity to grace/truth does not destroy free will but rather enables it.

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    4. In normal human gift-giving, one has to accept the gift. One can say no, I don't want it. So I think all gifts include some "work", if only the passive work of not saying no. It sounds like the Calvinists are tying themselves in knots.

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    5. I'm not sure about the Protestant taxonomy as such, but it comes straight from the pages of Augustine (as the Reformers never tire of insisting). For Augustine, Adam's sin locks all subsequent human beings in a default 'amor sui' such that any even seemingly good action (like breastfeeding a child) is still corrupt in some sense. The example Augustine himself uses (in Against Julian 4.3) is clothing a naked man: if not done for love of God, it is still sin. This doesn't mean it's not better to clothe a man than to kill him; only that conventionally good actions are still fundamentally depraved if we are not in Christ (the 'good olive tree' into which all humans must be grafted to become righteous, saved, justified, whatever you want to call it).

      Here Trent's view is, I think, much more sane, though that doesn't make it right. And in any case, Original Guilt hardly disappears completely with Aquinas/Trent, so it's not altogether clear how much of an improvement this is on the classic Augustinian view (though it is very definitely an improvement of some sort).

      And I am a (relatively conservative) Protestant, by the way, though I don't buy Original Sin at all.

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    6. Since the Thomist / Trentian view is merely a refinement on Augustine's (as I understand it), it is sufficient to state the whole view clearly to state both sets of views. Which I will try.

      God made Adam and Eve with original justice, which He intended to belong to EACH human being from the first moment of each one's existence. In that graced state, each voluntarily willed human act is done first and primarily for love of God, and secondarily for other loves insofar as they fit with and follow from love of God (such as love of fellow men). Thus each act would be meritorious precisely insofar as springing from the supernatural love of God give by grace, that grace consisting in the very indwelling of the life of God in the soul as a supernatural addition to it, a participation in God's life (no other motive cause being adequate to the pure and proper love of God, than God himself moving the soul to act).

      When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost that grace. Without grace, no voluntary willed human act can possibly be willed from the required pure and supernatural love of God, and is thus not meritorious. This affects ALL other acts of each man, as long as he is without grace.

      When a man without grace does something that is (by its genus) a "naturally" good act, such as cloth a naked man, he does not sin in respect of the genus of the act - and in that sense the act itself is good (and thus to tat extent I agree with Ed's statement The doctrine also does not entail that there is no goodness of any kind in anything anyone does – for example, that even a mother who breastfeeds a child or a father playing catch with his son are somehow really deep down moved to do these things by some purely selfish and evil motive, rather than by natural affection or kindness.

      But since at any moment if a man were to accept the actual grace God offers, by which he could turn to God in faith (God being the cause of the turning, and the faith) and receive sanctifying grace, he COULD do the very same act with merit as a good act said simply, (i.e. without qualification, "good"), included in every act done by a man without sanctifying grace is a failure to turn to God, and thus included in every such act is a moral deficiency. St. Thomas implies this in answering whether there can be acts that are indifferent (neither good nor bad):

      For since it belongs to the reason to direct; if an action that proceeds from deliberate reason be not directed to the due end, it is, by that fact alone, repugnant to reason, and has the character of evil. But if it be directed to a due end, it is in accord with reason; wherefore it has the character of good. Now it must needs be either directed or not directed to a due end. Consequently every human action that proceeds from deliberate reason, if it be considered in the individual, must be good or bad. (Ia IIae, Q18, A9)

      Clothing the naked man is good in its species, but in the concrete it may be either good or bad, according to the intention and the circumstances. If done in order to receive worldly praise (i.e. for vanity), it is a bad act even though good in its species. But more broadly, any act done for motives that are not ultimately reduced to supernatural love of God are done for undue intentions, and are therefore acts that are bad in the concrete, and are DEmeritorious.

      Hence such an act is "good in a sense" (i.e. good with respect to an aspect) but is not good simply. It is bad simply. St. Thomas is clear that no (voluntary, fully intentional) human act is morally neutral in the concrete, and can only be good simply if it is good all the way up to its ultimate intention, which must be God loved supernaturally.

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    7. @Tony,


      What exactly does "any act done for motives that are not ultimately reduced to supernatural love of God are done for undue intentions" mean?

      Does this mean that ANY act we do that is done for ANY motive OTHER than God is undue?

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    8. No. We have all sorts of motives other than God, at the proximate level. These can be good acts.

      What Aquinas is saying is that in each moral act of a man, the act may have a proximate end, and many, many intermediate ends, but it will also be (in the will) under and within the overall intention that is the man's ultimate goal, his ultimate intention. Nor does he always have that ultimate intention always in mind.

      I answer that, Man must, of necessity, desire all, whatsoever he desires, for the last end. This is evident for two reasons. First, because whatever man desires, he desires it under the aspect of good. And if he desire it, not as his perfect good, which is the last end, he must, of necessity, desire it as tending to the perfect good, because the beginning of anything is always ordained to its completion; as is clearly the case in effects both of nature and of art. Wherefore every beginning of perfection is ordained to complete perfection which is achieved through the last end. Secondly, because the last end stands in the same relation in moving the appetite, as the first mover in other movements. Now it is clear that secondary moving causes do not move save inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover. Therefore secondary objects of the appetite do not move the appetite, except as ordained to the first object of the appetite, which is the last end.

      Reply to Objection 3. One need not always be thinking of the last end, whenever one desires or does something: but the virtue of the first intention, which was in respect of the last end, remains in every desire directed to any object whatever, even though one's thoughts be not actually directed to the last end. Thus while walking along the road one needs not to be thinking of the end at every step. (Prima Secundae, Q1, A6)

      St. Thomas' view is that first one has to have a PRIMARY intention, and then you can have any number of other intentions that get you to a proximate intention for the act here and now. There cannot possibly be proximate intentions that are not themselves directed to (in a chain) to the ultimate end intended. It would be like being held up by a chain: you are held by the last link, and that link is held up by the second-to-last link...there HAS to be a first link that is firmly attached, at the other end.

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    9. @Tony,


      So if I understand the quotes correctly, choosing to eat a piece of chocolate without thinking of God is perfectly okay then?

      So even when we have the Beatific Vision, we'll still be able to do things without having God directly or explicitly in mind?

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    10. Refinement on the Augustinian view though it be, the all important difference is the corruption of human nature (which is why I think it's a bit more than mere refinement). Anselm refined the Augustinian view as filtered through the Council of Orange, but he still retained the idea that Original Sin actually corrupts human nature in such a way that we can't, in a sense, see what humanity is essentially without Christ.

      This is of paramount importance. Augustine was critical of Ciceronian natural law precisely because Adam's sin vitiated man's very nature. You can see how Augustine's view would be taken up in earnest by the Reformers: if we don't have access to true human nature outside Christ, a divine command theory will have to prevail over against natural law, and sin will be seen to have certain 'noetic effects' (popular in Reformed circles today) which call into question our ability to access objective reality itself.

      Aquinas was really the first to see this, I think, and it wasn't till Trent and then Bellarmine that Original Sin was defined negatively as the absence of what was granted in baptism, viz., sanctifying grace. Original Sin is thus the absence of sanctifying grace (which includes the preternatural gifts). But this doesn't touch human nature at all--that remains fully intact.

      For Augustine and the Reformers, on the other hand, Original Sin is something more 'positive', we might say. It is a corruption of that nature. We are not truly human without Christ (this is part of why Protestants don't like the nature/grace distinction).

      In short, what is now the Catholic view of Original Sin only seems a mere refinement of Augustine. But the consequences I think show how radically different the two really are.

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    11. Anon, I think Augustine and Aquinas were in complete agreement in their position that a person cannot, say, eat a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party as a good act (good simpliciter) without sanctifying grace, and with sanctifying grace, the act is (habitually) conformed to one's final end as God unless one imposes some OTHER ultimate end which is per se incompatible with God as final end (and thus commits a mortal sin in the act). For both, there is no such thing as a man acting "for a due end" (simpliciter) unless he is ultimately and supernaturally ordered to God as his final end; for any other human deliberate and voluntary act, because it is not ordered to God as such, it is deficient of the moral order that ought to inform it, and it is thus a sin. There is no such thing as a moral act that is "naturally" good (simpliciter) and (merely) not ordered to God because the person is unaware of God; either it is good "all the way up" (meaning supernaturally ordered to God) or it is only "good in a (qualified) sense" and bad ultimately by not being ordered to God supernaturally. All moral acts are good or sins. Neither of them believed in neutral moral acts, acts that are good "naturally" (in the sense of not-sins) but not supernaturally ordered to God. Thus: we are not truly human without the grace Christ won for us in His salvific passion and death. To be truly human just is to act supernaturally in the love of God.

      What Aquinas may have added in refinement to Augustine is a clearer why and how to take it that even Adam and Eve, in their state prior to any sin, needed grace to act morally, to act well, for their acts to be "good" simply - to act in supernatural love of God - they both agreed on the FACT of it. Aquinas clarifies that, first, in order to act at all as a human (willed, intentional) act, man needs God as a first cause, and this happens both in the morally good act and the morally bad act, in that every such act is "for an end", while the bad act is bad due to a defect introduced by the human agent, not by God as first cause of the act. The second refinement is that to act for God as our supernatural end cannot be achieved in the human without a power over and above his nature (i.e. requiring grace), it constitutes the proper measure of the good act (good simply) anyway, and any human act without such condition (grace) is bad.

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    12. So even when we have the Beatific Vision, we'll still be able to do things without having God directly or explicitly in mind?

      Joe, while the BV remains at least in part a mystery to us, I think we can say a couple things. First, it IS possible to will other things while having the BV: the saints will to help us (e.g. through miracles) while within the BV. Second, within the BV it is NOT possible to will something without attention to God as our final end: Thomas explicitly notes that one reason it is impossible to sin in heaven is that when one has the BV, it is impossible to act without explicit reference to having God as one's ultimate end, because we see him face to face; in that condition, it is impossible to see any OTHER end as if it might seem good without reference to its being in line with God's will - it is impossible to apprehend an act that is contrary to God's will as if it might be good to will, and since this is the prior condition of sin, it is impossible to sin. So, I deduce that (according to Thomas), within the BV, in no way can one act in such a way that the act is not clearly in accord with God's will.

      I would add that this seems necessary to what the BV is, itself, anyway. (Again, according the Thomas), under the BV, the intellect sees God not according to some (created concept), as we see ALL other things, instead God himself takes the place of the concept through which the intellect apprehends the thing, God himself is the operative by which the intellect knows Him. (This is because no created concept is adequate to knowing Him as He is in Himself.) In such a condition, it seems impossible to suggest that the intellect could even pay attention to any other being, EXCEPT AS IN RELATION TO God and God's will. God Himself would consume one's entire attention. (It actually is surprising that the saints can even make room for willing other things even AS UNDER their attention to God, and - I suspect - even that possibility is due to God's special act making them able to do so.)

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    13. I would also add that, (contrary to modern theologians who play all sorts of games with "let's suppose X and see where it runs), according to Thomas, Jesus in his human intellect had the BV all of his life. And yet he was able to will all of the many acts he did during his 33 years. I admit that this could be a special case, because his human will was united to his divine will in some unique and mysterious way, and (perhaps, unlike the saints) he could thus divinely cause his human intellect and will to attend to other matters besides just God alone. Or, one might say that this is actually just like the saints, in that in either case it is something added by divine power to the "otherwise" situation, which would be that in the BV the intellect is wholly consumed by the contemplation of God that it is unable to attend to any other act. I suspect (running well off the beaten path here) that Thomas would say that because the intellect is immaterial, it is per se not limited in its "attention to" by any one thing, but I don't know what he would say if one of the "one thing"s is the be-all and end-all of the natural "object of the intellect", i.e. God as He is in Himself (having all other possible objects included therein).

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    14. Hi Tony,

      Thanks for this--all of your comments and quotes were extremely helpful. I don't doubt that Aquinas and Augustine agreed that only an action ordered ultimately to God is good simpliciter (this definitely needs to be kept in mind), but I still think we need to be clear about the differences between the two on how Original Sin is primarily conceptualized. I ought not to have said above that, for Augustine, "we are not truly human without Christ"--that's true, but perhaps implied Aquinas wouldn't agree.

      What I mean to emphasize is this only: for Aquinas, human nature is not vitiated by Original Sin like it is for Augustine. In I-II 85.1, Thomas distinguishes between three 'goods' of human nature: (a) "the principles of which nature is constituted, and the properties which flow from them, like the properties of the soul"; (b) an inclination to virtue; (c) Original Justice. (a) "is neither destroyed nor diminished by sin" because "sin does not diminish nature (A.2); but (b) is diminished and (c) "entirely destroyed." But (b) and (c) don't really pertain to human nature as we normally speak of it: glance back at I.95.1 and we read:

      "Now it is clear that such a subjection of the body to the soul and of the lower powers to reason, was not from nature; *otherwise it would have remained after sin.* …Hence it is clear that also the primitive subjection by virtue of which reason was subject to God, was not a merely natural gift, but a supernatural endowment of grace. …Hence if the loss of grace dissolved the obedience of the flesh to the soul, we may gather that the inferior powers were subjected to the soul through grace existing therein."

      To my mind, the clear implication in homespun is that sin does *not* change or corrupt human nature, but leaves it essentially intact. This is, I think, the main difference between Aquinas/Trent and the whole of the Augustinian tradition. For Aquinas, it is not a corrupted nature which acts and thus sins; it is a good and immutable nature which has lost the sanctifying grace necessary for an act to be meritorious at all (as you so lucidly demonstrated). But, again, the sanctifying grace is not something proper to human nature as such, but a 'donum superadditum' on top of human nature, so to speak.

      Does that sound at all off base?

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    15. @Tony,

      "it is impossible to see any OTHER end as if it might seem good without reference to its being in line with God's will "

      In other words, other things really can be ends in themselvs for us, as long as they don't contradict God's will - which allows for a diversity of things to be willed. Besides, it is God's will for us to have free will that can will other things - and not in the sense we are commanded to be free and must will our freedom as if it were a commandment, but in a more free and natural sense as well.

      " In such a condition, it seems impossible to suggest that the intellect could even pay attention to any other being, EXCEPT AS IN RELATION TO God and God's will."

      I thought of this objection myself, except I found a way to solve it.

      Only God's self-knowledge is absolutely sufficient to know the fullness of God - no created being could possibly know all of God without being God. And it's also commonly accepted that we will forever grow in knowledge of God in Heaven, since He is infinite. So even in the BV, we will never know the FULLNESS of God or ALL of God.

      But God knows the fullness of Himself perfectly, yet He still decided to create things other than Himself for their own sake, not just His own - though because God is Goodness itself, and it is Good that things be loved for their own sake truly, this is included in God's self-love because God is transcendent and isn't univocally in the same genus as creation, so while there is a distinction between God creating the world for His sake and the world's sake, the world's sake is transcendentally included in God's sake without being confused or blurred with God fully.

      So if even God Himself, knowing His own fullness perfectly, can will things other than Himself - though again being an extension of His love of Himself since it is in the nature of Love to love the other for IT'S OWN sake - then we will certainly be able to desire other things for their own sake or for our sake, since we won't ever know the fullness of God perfectly.

      " I admit that this could be a special case, because his human will was united to his divine will in some unique and mysterious way, and (perhaps, unlike the saints) he could thus divinely cause his human intellect and will to attend to other matters besides just God alone. Or, one might say that this is actually just like the saints, in that in either case it is something added by divine power to the "otherwise" situation, which would be that in the BV the intellect is wholly consumed by the contemplation of God that it is unable to attend to any other act."

      I would agree it's the second option. It't just much more fitting for Christ to have also been a perfect human being with regards to beatitude as well, especially since beatitude isn't the same as hypostatic union.

      The idea that Christ could only have focused on other things by Divine Assistance seems too complicated and just unfitting - keep in mind this would apply to ALL acts during the daily, everyday life of Christ where He willed something other than God, and that's basically the vast majority of His acts.

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    16. @Tony,

      To clarify my comments on God's love for creation being an extension of His self-love; what I meant was not that God only loves creation for it's own sake, but that He truly does love creation for it's own sake, but that this is transcendentally included in His self-love in a unique way.

      Because God is not a being and is transcendent, and is Goodness itself, the nature of God allows Him to love creation both for His own sake and it's sake. The two ends are distinct - for creation to be loved for God's sake and it's own sake can't be identical, otherwise it would be pantheism whereby to love X for X's sake is to love God for God's sake - but they aren't hermetically isolated in their distinction either.

      The nature of God makes it the case that God can love Himself for His sake in the very act of loving others for their own sake - because God is Love itself and it is in the nature of Love to will the other for it's sake. And this without confusing things, or making God's nature absolutely identical with loving another thing for it's own sake, even though it's in the transcendent nature of God to also do that - since that is also good.

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    17. To my mind, the clear implication in homespun is that sin does *not* change or corrupt human nature, but leaves it essentially intact. This is, I think, the main difference between Aquinas/Trent and the whole of the Augustinian tradition.

      Anon, it is of course very difficult to be (rightly) confident and definitive about whether Augustine "held" all of the downstream results and conclusions that can be deduced from what he stated explicitly, so if Aquinas shows something follows from what Augustine held, that does not prove that Augustine held it. Possibly Augustine as inconsistent about it.

      Setting that aside, from what I have read in Augustine (rather extensive, but most of it 40 years ago, so maybe I am not reliable on it), he was not explicit enough about all of the distinctions of nature and grace on this point to be sure whether he held to a corruption of (a). But one of the problems with allowing for the corruption of (a) is that it undermines personal sin. For if the nature was corrupted, then man's capacity to REASON is corrupted, and one cannot assert that man can knows Z just because it follows logically from X and Y. Most personal (mortal) sins involve the FACT that Z means the act is incompatible with God as your ultimate end, along with the (culpable) lack of attendance to that fact, even though the person is aware of X and Y. If we can never rely on reason, we can never rely on X and Y implying Z, even if we that chain should happen to occur to us.

      It is, of course, an interesting debate as to whether the corruption of (a) implies that we can "never rely on reason", but it is impossible to discount the point altogether. Even if we sometimes reason correctly, if at root we are utterly unable to TELL THE DIFFERENCE between valid chains of reason and invalid ones, then we cannot rely on reason, and therefore cannot rely on reason telling us "act Z is incompatible with God as your ultimate end." Thus everything other than, say, direct worship of a different god, would be undermined from the point of personal guilt / culpability, because we could be rely on the chain of reason that connects it to "incompatible with God as ultimate end" - even if such chain happened to occur to us. Conscience is not bound by such an uncertain position.

      That problem aside, Augustine most certainly did hold to the position that human nature itself was not corrupted so much that the will itself was not culpable for directly willed sins, such as worship of other gods. That is, he did not (as some Calvinists seem to say) indicate that the guilt of all personal sins is already included within the guilt of original sin.

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    18. Sorry, too many not's in that last paragraph. Augustine certainly held that the will retained enough natural power to allow for the additional guilt of personal sins as distinct from the guilt of original sin.

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    19. In addition, he also held that different people would be subject to different levels of punishment in hell due to different personal sins, even among those who never were relieved of the guilt of original sin by grace. This implies that even though they were corrupted by original sin, they remained able to incur different degrees of guilt by their capacity to will, so that the will was not wholly corrupted as to freedom: one person can will the same sin more completely than another, though both do so mortally. This implies that the will is not corrupted in every way. (I think that Aquinas uses such facts to teach that the will, though under the stain of original sin, is still free enough to contract the guilt of personal sin, and that this leads to the not-corruption of "nature" in the sense he means it. Connected to this remains, always, that if a person were to turn to God so as to desire to be freed from the stain of original sin, God would turn to him (give him sanctifying grace), and that everyone is always able to do turn to Him because God always is urging everyone to turn to Him - giving them actual grace urging them. Thus it is ALWAYS true of a man who acts from the defect of original sin that he does so having defected away from (i.e. obstructing) cooperation with the actual graces which would have had him turning to God.)

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    20. Tony,

      Again, I thank you for your thoroughness here--and frankly I agree with you on everything here, the only quibble being the extent to which Augustine can be proved to hold to a corruption of human nature (from my reading of Augustine and works on the development of the doctrine of Original Sin, I'd say I'm 80%+ confident he did hold to a corruption of (a) such that human nature is not ultimately knowable apart from regeneration in Christ. One dead give away (for me) is the way Augustine contests Cicero's ethics on the grounds that it necessitates a pre-Christian knowledge of human nature. We can raise doubts about what a 'corrupt' or 'vitiated' nature might mean, but when he says it is "harmed in its very *constitution*", I'm not sure how else to take this (I'm relying on Against Julian and Unfinished Work Against Julian here). But you're right, the point is eminently debatable!).

      Aside from that, I think you pinpoint the main issue with a bona fide corruption of nature: we can't really rely on our rational faculties--how do we know this part isn't corrupt, too? Among my (many) Barthian peers, the conclusion is obvious: we *can't* trust reason--revelation is all we have! I think that's hugely problematic, but you can't fault the Reformers for understanding Augustine in this way (though that, too, is obviously debatable).

      And yes and amen to personal sin--I don't mean that Augustine was a Calvinist (though neither, arguably, was Calvin); only that the Augustinian view of OS could produce a Calvin, whereas Thomas probably couldn't have.

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    21. @Tony,


      So what do you think?

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    22. Anon, thank you for your balanced critique and additions. I would like to read Against Julian before I said anything further. And refresh my memory of what he said in On Nature and Grace. But overall, my recollection is that it is a LOT easier to get to Calvinism from Augustine than from Thomas - on that I agree.

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    23. The nature of God makes it the case that God can love Himself for His sake in the very act of loving others for their own sake - because God is Love itself and it is in the nature of Love to will the other for it's sake.

      I think this is right, Joe, and it means pointing out different senses of loving "for its own sake". God loves Himself as such - loving Himself is the act of his nature as such. But he loves the created order not as HIS good, but as emanating from his goodness - at it is good for them that they conform (each in their way) to His goodness.

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  2. One of the main heresies of modernism is to naturalize the supernatural or conversely to supernaturalize the natural. This in many ways is the project of Nouvelle Theologie as Dr. Taylor Marshall frequently points out. Moderns seem to have forgotten the Scholastic dictum, “Distinctions! Distinctions! Distinctions!” ...unless we’re talking about gender theory, of course.

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    1. Marshall is right about what is wrong, and wrong about what is right. I hope you are not invested in only one perspective.

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    2. Calling Nouvelle Theologie Modernism is farcical. This is a movement that is going back to the more ancient patristic sources. Somehow, don't ask me how, Trad Catholics think that the 16th century is somehow more ancient and traditional than writings and liturgies from the 4th. Tridentine mass and scholasticism are modernist compared to the 4th and 5th century fathers.

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    3. @ Tanner

      Recent times have shown me how naive I am: I used to think that intellectual Catholics (apologists and the like) were dispassionate finders of fact that could let the chips fall where they may because the truth is a value in itself. More recently, however, I've come to see that that's not the case. If I say some things are wrong in the modern church, I get assaulted by the irrational left. Then if I say something is right with the modern church, I get assaulted by the irrational right.

      Some won't hear that Francis is doing some bizarre things. Others won't hear that the Church and her mission aren't irreformably tied to a particular Roman or medieval legal structure. I guess they just won't hear.

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    4. What specifically do you have in mind? I was referring to the denial of the twofold nature in man. This Dr. Marshall’s PhD thesis, so I would be very hesitant to dismiss it as some Trad rant (I don’t even know if he was Catholic when he got his PhD, let alone a “Trad”).

      I do not think that the Church is irredeemably toes to the Middle Ages either, but I do think that it was much more prudent in many ways. For example communion in the hand and an abundance of “extraordinary” ministers of holy communion have led to a Church whose adherents do not believe in the Real Presence.

      But now we are getting off topic.

      What specifically about the Nouvelle Theologie’s collapse of the natural into the supernatural is legitimate? In what way do you think Thomistic views on Original Sin are illegitimate?

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    5. @ Scott

      The Nouvelle Theologie is not an attempt to deny original sin nor reduce the supernatural to the natural--though you can, of course, find bad actors (de Chardin). It’s an attempt to, as George Weigel puts it, “breathe new life into truths that had been reduced to the end of a syllogism”. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that in principle. Specific to our concern here, it’s an attempt to flesh out what it really means for grace to elevate and perfect nature, not destroy or contradict it.

      Here’s the problem with the way Marshall goes about it. Suppose someone made the following argument:

      Extra ecclesia nulla salus historically (and for Aquinas) meant that all the saved would be in the visible confines of the Church. But The popes of the last 200 years (namely Pius X, Leo XIII, Pius IX, Pius XII, et al) denied the historic teaching and said that some could be saved outside the visible confines of the Church. They brought in these seductive, “Freemasonic”, and modernist heresies through ambiguity and a false sense of ecumenism which led to “an abundance of extraordinary ministers” and communion in the hand.

      How would you respond to such an argument?

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    6. Well Taylor Marshall has himself conceded (as the Church has always taught) that God is not bound by His sacraments. Also I do not believe that Aquinas would have thought Job to be in Hell (even though he was not in the visible confines of the Church). The point is one of emphasis. If a teenager asks me about Russian Roulette, my proper response is to tell him that if he plays it, he will die. Only a psychopath would say well you can teeeechnically survive Russian Roulette, so you shouldn’t worry yourself too much about it. The Scholastics understood the difference between material and formal heresy; that does not mean they treated material heresy lightly. The Nouvelle Theologie seems to treat it more lightly, from what I have heard of it.

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    7. It's not about the specific theological issue, it's about the method of pointing at something that has changed and blaming any and all abuses on that change. If Marshall can point at Vat II and say that's why we have all these problems, why can't someone point at something like the change in extra ecclesiam nulla salus and just say that's where we started watering everything down, blah, blah, blah? Why can't someone say Pius X was just a "freemasonic" modernist in disguise who taught a watered down version of extra ecclesiam?

      Marshall himself has said that he can read Vat II in an orthodox way. Great! then he must do so. Finding human sin and just blaming the previous council for "ambiguity" is fallacious.

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    8. Well I do not think Dr. Marshall and other traditional Catholics are mindlessly pointing fingers as if Vatican II is some sort of boogeyman. I think they are arguing on a point by point basis where there is ambiguity that is harmful and comparing them to much more clear previous teachings. Additionally, because of the development of doctrine, any teaching should be more clear and precise because most of the work has already been done. And therefore we should have a higher standard for later councils and theological treatises than for earlier ones. But we often see the opposite of that.

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    9. Oh yea? How do you know that? So you're saying the later teaching on extra ecclesiam nulla salus must be "more clear and precise" or it is not legit. But it isn't. The previous understanding of extra ecclesiam is obviously much more "clear and precise" and the later understanding is much more nebulous and complicated. So Pius X must have been a modernist in disguise who watered down the faith then, right?

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    10. Can you give me the exact quotes you are referring to (in English please)?

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    11. Also I said “should be” not “must be as a criterion for legitimacy”.

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    12. If you concede the point that orthodoxy doesn't require ever increasing precision, then I don't need to produce evidence to prove it.

      You say Marshall and other Trads are pointing out ambiguities that are harmful. But Marshall, Gordon, Michael Matt, et. al. say that the "Vatican II church" is a different religion than the pre-Vatican II church. So either you need to contend that "ambiguities" rise to the level of the making of a different religion (a difficult jump to make in light of the fact that Marshall says he can read Vat II in an orthodox way), or you need to concede that they are up to something other than merely pointing out harmful ambiguities--which, as we've established, do not necessarily displace orthodoxy.

      I'll agree all day long that there are bad actors that have "infiltrated" (if you prefer that word) the church, but the burden that Marshall and his ilk have is to show that this agenda has poisoned church teaching. He clearly thinks it has as he calls for a reversal of Vat II.

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    13. For clarity, when is say church teaching above, I'm referring to that which rises to the level of de fide teaching, not anything less. Much of what Francis does and says is a mess at best and the revision on the death penalty is incoherent at best and contradictory at worst, but catechism revisions aren't de fide.

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    14. Well if I recall correctly, Pope John XXIII said Vatican II was not meant to declare any definitive doctrines or anathemas. It was a “pastoral” council and as such would not need to be reversed. Where has Dr. Marshall said that post-Vatican II Catholicism is a different religion?

      We are getting a little into the weeds here. I will concede that not every Nouvelle Theologie theologian collapses the natural into the supernatural. My point is that it is something seen more often than in traditionally presented (e.g. Scholastic) Catholicism.

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    15. "Where has Dr. Marshall said that post-Vatican II Catholicism is a different religion?"

      Well, he wrote a whole book about it. Having my copy in hand, I'll just pick one example right from the top of page 4: ". . . an agenda to replace the supernatural religion of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ with the natural religion of humanism and globalism."

      Just like you said in your O.P.

      I guess he's just pointing out some harmful ambiguities. Thanks for the discussion.

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    16. He is making the claim that there are people within the Church hierarchy who are trying to do this. He is not claiming that the Church itself as the Bride of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is actually changing in this way.

      You’re welcome for the discussion. 🙂

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    17. Extra ecclesia nulla salus historically (and for Aquinas) meant that all the saved would be in the visible confines of the Church.

      Aquinas most emphatically did not believe that only those who were visibly members of the Church could be saved. He taught otherwise, himself. Furthermore, he cites St. Augustine and Ambrose as proof: IIIa, Q38, A2: Whether a man can be saved without baptism?

      Objection 1. It seems that no man can be saved without Baptism. ...
      On the contrary, Augustine says (Super Levit. lxxxiv) that "some have received the invisible sanctification without visible sacraments, and to their profit; but though it is possible to have the visible sanctification, consisting in a visible sacrament, without the invisible sanctification, it will be to no profit." Since, therefore, the sacrament of Baptism pertains to the visible sanctification, it seems that a man can obtain salvation without the sacrament of Baptism, by means of the invisible sanctification.

      I answer that, The sacrament or Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptized, nor wished to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament, in regard to those who have the use of the free-will. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus, cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained.

      Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of "faith that worketh by charity," whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: "I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for."


      He is even more general about children receiving sanctifying grace without visibly entering the Church:

      But when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, through not doing that which is in his power to do. (Ia IIae, Q 89, A6.)

      Given that Aquinas is explicit in not taking "outside the Church" as meaning those who are not visibly members of the Church are damned, and he refers this to Augustine and Ambrose (4th century), I am not sure where the idea comes from that what the modern Church has taught (i.e. Pius X, etc) is different from the ancient Church.

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    18. "an agenda to replace the supernatural religion of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ with the natural religion of humanism and globalism."That sounds pretty clearly to me like arguing that Vatican II was a bad thing. And arguing that Vatican II was a bad thing in and of itself is material heresy and, if people persist after being warned, it is formal heresy. It was a church council and we are bound to abide by it. Some people aren't clear about that. Note: that doesn't mean you can't be traditionalist you just have to accept Vatican II.

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  3. I wonder Ed, how you would explain the initial sin of the angels (from which they become demons).

    When describing our beatific state, you mention that our cognitive faculties are such that they don't malfunction. There is no error there.

    Given the intellectualism (as opposed to voluntarism) that Thomism upholds and couple that with the philosophy of action that you have given before on angels as not knowing things discursively but all once - how would it even be possible for satan to sin in the first place?

    This blog post describes how we won't sin in beatitude with no cognitive deficiencies or affective deficiencies (which are essentially material). Given that angels are but intellect and will it would seem they aren't subject to the latter deficiency by nature. Given the way angels know things, it would seem they don't have cognitive deficiencies either. Or if they did they would have those by nature and so wouldn't be responsible. It wouldn't be a sin?

    Hope you had a merry Christmas!

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    1. Have you looked at Aquinas' take on the question of angelic sin?

      Aquinas confirms what you say about angels being incapable of intellectual error:

      http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1059.htm#article4

      Then later on, Aquinas divides the sources of sin in order to isolate the case in which sin occurs without intellectual error:

      http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1063.htm

      >First, when something evil is chosen; as man sins by choosing adultery, which is evil of itself. Such sin always comes of ignorance or error; otherwise what is evil would never be chosen as good. The adulterer errs in the particular, choosing this delight of an inordinate act as something good to be performed now, from the inclination of passion or of habit; even though he does not err in his universal judgment, but retains a right opinion in this respect. In this way there can be no sin in the angel; because there are no passions in the angels to fetter reason or intellect, as is manifest from what has been said above (I:59:4); nor, again, could any habit inclining to sin precede their first sin. **In another way sin comes of free-will by choosing something good in itself, but not according to proper measure or rule**; so that the defect which induces sin is only on the part of the choice which is not properly regulated, but not on the part of the thing chosen; as if one were to pray, without heeding the order established by the Church. **Such a sin does not presuppose ignorance, but merely absence of consideration of the things which ought to be considered. In this way the angel sinned, by seeking his own good, from his own free-will, insubordinately to the rule of the Divine will**.

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  4. In our current political climate, the liberals are most definitely on the side of blaming bad things almost exclusively on circumstance rather than personal choice (the exception being when the "bad choice" can be attributed to a political rival). The conservatives are more balanced on the issue, at least for now because they are the underdog when it comes to social clout, and they are under the scrutiny of a hostile media. However all that will eventually change as power shifts the other way someday. Power corrupts, and losing power tends to get one to shape up.

    When it comes to meddling too much: there are many things I disagree with Hayek on (his anthropology is frankly bizarre), however he nailed it on emergent order IMO. We just aren't smart enough to know how to manage complex problems, and we usual do more harm than good whenever we try (which is most all the time).

    Ending the post with a discussion on original sin is fine with me, but it wasn't where I expected it to go.

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  5. Good essay except for the nonsense about original sin!

    There are not two realities, this world and another world, nor two disparate levels of Reality, a material this-worldly level and a spiritual other-worldly level. There is one Reality, one Truth. Every human being is ultimately responsible for this Truth. Each one will either hit the mark or miss it.

    The alternative to such responsibility is not human ordinariness but irresponsibility or human failure. The alternative to real understanding is not a lesser, this-worldly understanding but illusion. Failure of the intrinsic potential for self-transcendence is suffering. The missing of the mark is not original sin, expressed as an historical stamp upon humankind, but the current practice of each person, a karma producing practice that will prevail for as many aeons as each one needs to be moved to inspect his or her actual condition as a human being with utmost sobriety and openness. That Grace given and inspired movement is itself the awakening of transcendental responsibility.

    True human responsibility is not simply one aspect of Man within his or her apparent limited existence. It is requirement and an impulse to Truth, which is native to human existence and to which an individual can become sensitized in the midst of his or her experiential life, the mechanics of psycho-physical experience. It is the lawful requirement and impulse to break identity with this very mechanics. It is the Grace given awakening of human transcendence.

    Responsibility, then, is an awakening, a lawful requirement, and an impulse to transcendence. It is not brought fresh into a human's life from outside, but is the intrinsically Sacred character of human consciousness by which a person begins to awaken to his or her True, Prior, and Transcendental Identity

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    1. So says every sales trainer/motivational speaker.

      When you start off by calling the blog hosts argument nonsense--particularly when it regards something you can see by merely looking around--who do you think you're going to convince?

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    2. Good essay except for the entire essay!

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    3. T N,

      You say Original Sin is 'something you can see by merely looking around'. This is something I think needs to be pushed back on (not as strongly, of course, as the anonymous comment you're responding to).

      Chesterton made this same mistake in Orthodoxy, as have countless others, viz. 'Original Sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine'.

      Actually, as Chesterton makes plain in the following paragraph, he doesn't mean the doctrine of Original Sin at all--he means 'actual sin'; certain 'new theologians' deny that sin simpliciter exists at all. The fact of the matter is, the 'official' doctrine of Original Sin (whether Augustinian, Tridentine, or even EO's 'ancestral sin'), which includes the doctrine of the Fall, is by no means '[seen] by merely looking around'. *Actual sin*, certainly, but 'Original Sin', no. The purported effects of the purported first sin, yes--sin, death, weakness, et. al.--but not the doctrine as such.

      I hope that makes sense...

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    4. @ Anonymous December 31st

      I guess you thought the side note in my comment about being rude was a comprehensive defense of the doctrine of original sin?

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    5. Hi T N,

      Not at all, no. It's just I see the comment all the time and think it's very misleading.

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    6. So you think a pithy comment about how we can see the results of original sin in the bad behavior of human beings is "very misleading". I'm guessing you're in the minority.

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    7. Hi again T N,

      No, that's not what I meant, and that's not what the context lead me to think you meant.

      A: 'Good essay except for the nonsense about Original Sin'
      TN: '[Feser's comments about what you say is nonsense] regards something you can see by merely looking around'.

      What does A regard as nonsense? The doctrine of Original Sin. This can only be taken in one way, then: you clearly think Original Sin is something that can be seen by merely looking around.

      You did not say, originally, 'we can see the *results* of original sin in the bad behavior of human beings'; you said (strongly implied) that Original Sin full stop can be seen just by looking around. I responded by saying that is not true. And it will remain untrue even if you successfully offer 'a comprehensive defense of the doctrine'.

      I am not going after you, T N. I am just suggesting that your 'pithy comment' reflects a widespread misunderstanding of Original Sin (whether you share that misunderstanding or not), and that, yes, even pithy comments can have serious consequences.

      In any case, I take it you are conceding my original point (shifting from Original Sin to the *results* of original sin being visible), the consideration of which was all I was really asking for.

      I hope I have made myself clear. Happy New Year to you and yours.

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    8. Wow. Much ink spilled over nothing.

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    9. Agreed, this is a lot of ink spilled to say that you think Hinduism (or something like it) is better than Christianity.

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    10. In saying that original sin can be seen by merely looking around, Chesterton might just as well have been using the argument in Contra Gentiles IV.

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    11. Hello, Kaltrop, Mr. Green:

      (a) sorry for the confusion: I am not 'Hindu Anonymous'. I am Anonymous beginning 12.31.19.

      (b) The Chesterton point is just to say that we tend to use 'Original Sin' loosely when what we really mean is 'sin' or 'enslavement to sin', or something like that. I use Chesterton as an example because it is very clear from 'Orthodoxy' that he means only to argue against "certain new theologians" who "deny human sin" and "positive evil".

      (c) So while that's not quite what Chesterton means, yes, I see what you (Mr Green) mean when you point to Contra Gentiles. But Aquinas here defends the doctrine of Original Sin (roughly, the privative imputation of Adam's sin [and also guilt] to all humanity) first by pointing to the classic proof texts in scripture (Rom. 5, Ps. 51, Job 14:4), and only then to a probabilistic argument to the effect that it would be unseemly for a rational animal to begin his existence without his passions subjected to reason.

      When he says 'look around at death, particularly infant death', he's got Gen. 2/3 and Rom. 5 in mind. So that's not going to appeal to Hindu Anonymous above. If Aquinas says 'look around at the passions not under the rule of reason', that won't cut it either for most people: evolutionary biologists can plausibly account for this, too.

      Just to say, perhaps Aquinas's argument would have looked good in 1270, but I'm not sure how convinced non-Christians would be by it today.

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    12. No doubt his argument is just as good as back then. Deconstructionism is not the answer eh. There isn't much else apart from Mancz and his whining about days eh?

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    13. Mr. Green said: "In saying that original sin can be seen by merely looking around…”

      I jolly well did not say that!

      If someone wants to go around impersonating me, the least he can do is get his punctuation straight.

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    14. The impersonator is the madman 'Miguel Cervantes'.

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    15. That does sound like something Cervantes would do. It's a pretty low tactic. It's one thing to go anonymous, quite another to impersonate other posters.

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    16. @Tim

      Well, he did that to me the other day. Also, the reference to Mancz (presumably of https://manczpompon.blogspot.com/ fame) gives him away. So yeah, I agree with both Anon and you that it's most likely Cervantes.

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  6. It seems that human weakness and deficiency towards harm is a punishment rather than a cancelled reward. Seeing as punishments are pain that is due because of an offense. Whereas, a cancelled reward is lack of pleasure because of lack of merit. So the last part of Ed's post fails on two counts: First positive pain is caused by the fall not just lack of pleasure. Second sin that is blameworthy occurred at the fall not just lack of merit.

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    1. When I take away my daughter's iPad, she seems unaware of these finer distinctions.

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    2. Adam's sin severed our connection to God. It seems obvious that if all humans had always had that connection, human history would be very different, and much happier. I don't think that existence of "positive pain" disproves Ed's argument, or that "pleasure" is an adequate way to describe what was lost at the fall. What was lost was our intimate relationship with God, and all the pain is the result of us doing things our own way with our own limited resources.

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    3. o the last part of Ed's post fails on two counts: First positive pain is caused by the fall not just lack of pleasure. Second sin that is blameworthy occurred at the fall not just lack of merit.

      First, in Adam, his sin caused his being due (merits) positive punishment in the form of pain, because in him his sin was personal as well as "original". In us, says St. Thomas, Original Sin does not merit positive pain - he says in infants who die, the punishment they will receive will be solely the loss of God in the BV, and NOT positive torment. Because they did not commit personal sins in addition to having original sin.

      Secondly, the Fall caused not only the loss of sanctifying grace, but also the loss of the preternatural gifts that Adam had by the gift of Original Justice. That gift made the providential order so that not only was Adam better internally (no disposition to sin, all of the acts of the passions and appetites being driven and compliant with reason), but also all external nature was also obedient to man's good, so that there were no "natural" causes of pain to harm Adam. No earthquakes, floods, falling trees, etc: all was ordered to protect and preserve men in wholesome health and fulfillment. But these latter were gifts extrinsic to human nature, and their loss meant the introduction of natural causes of pain and suffering to men.

      We can speculate that in addition to God partially restoring men to the state of sanctifying grace due to Christ's salvific passion and death, He might also restore to the human race some part of the gifts of the preternatural sort if the entire race of men were obedient to grace and behaved well, so that even though born with original sin, we might, for example, be granted life without plagues, forest fires, floods, and droughts, due to a divine benevolence that took into account how sinless men happened to be living during an age - but we could not be completely assured of such a result. We don't KNOW that would happen - Job's story suggests otherwise: even if due to lack of much personal sin God deigned to prevent natural disasters along with many natural causes of pain, it seems extraordinarily implausible that he would also do away with the personal suffering due to diseases, given that we would remain subject to death.

      As far as I understand it, it is something of an impossible conundrum to delineate the degree to which the sufferings we are subject to are due merely (or "merely", if you prefer) to the loss of the gift of original justice and thus falling back onto "just" what nature herself unaided would have provided for without ADDITIONAL sin, and what is due to the loss of original justice, man intending to harm other men, and God deciding to use sufferings to bring about heroic virtue in the saints.

      There is no such thing as a world in which men don't have the preternatural gifts AND in which there is no sin to be a cause of pain and misery.

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  7. Many thanks for this article on original sin Dr. Feser ! This topic is fundamental for the understanding of many aspects of what it means to be human.

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  8. Steven Dutch has a nice essay about this https://stevedutch.net/Pseudosc/10DumRel.htm

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  9. Kekes is a very good writer. Interestingly, he's a conservative atheist who approaches ethics with an Aristotelian flavor.

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    1. I don't like anonymous or "unknown" tags. I don't know why this comment showed up "Unknown," but just for the record, I posted it.

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    2. There seem to be a growing number of people like Kekes who are making valuable contributions to correcting the problems of our time and of the last 500 years: Thomas Nagel; David Berlinski; et al. I couldn't say I agree with everything, but I appreciate the clarity they bring to some many subjects.

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    3. @T N

      Kekes is one of the best out there. His Against Liberalism is fabulous, and in it he lays out much of his ethical positions.

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  10. So we can't prevent all rapes by "teaching men not to rape?"😲

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    1. The modern man says 'Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.' This, clearly expressed, means, 'We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.' -- GK Chesterton

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  11. "Some people seem to think that [original sin] is the direct infliction on us of some harm (by God as punishment, or by demons)...In short, there is a tendency to think that original sin entails some malign agency behind every bad thing that happens. But that is a misunderstanding."

    Does this mean demonic possession does not exist? Are Catholic priest-exorcists trying to exorcise something that isn't there?

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    1. No. There's not enough in the extract you quote to justify the conclusion you present in the guise of a question. So, no.

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    2. No, all he is saying is that not every bad thing is caused by a malign influence, which only means that demons don't cause *every* evil. Nothing in that statement is the slightest bit contradictory to what the Church teaches.

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  12. I appreciate all the philosophy here, but the really interesting part is what specific issues we should accept as irremediable. Examples, please!

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  13. The Lonely ProfessorDecember 30, 2019 at 7:04 PM

    I'll happily take the challenge. This is a quite simplistic argument.

    The problem Kekes describes is either real or it is not. If it is not, then the right way to answer the conservative is to show where Kekes’s argument goes wrong, not to question conservative motives. And if the problem is real (as, of course, it obviously is) then questioning conservative motives doesn’t somehow make it less real.

    The problem being this:

    [W]hether the balance of good and evil propensities and their realization in people tilts one way or another is a contingent matter over which human beings and the political arrangements they make have insufficient control… The chief reason for this is that the human efforts to control contingency are themselves subject to the very contingency they aim to control. (pp. 42-43)

    Of course they are, but 1) not to the same extent; and 2) the more layers of control there are, the less subjection to contingency there is. Thus, contingency can be CONTROLLED, although not eliminated entirely.

    I take out an insurance policy on my home to guard against the contingency of a fire or some other catastrophe. Does that guard against all contingency? Of course not. The insurance company might go bankrupt, or refuse to pay. But note that there are now two levels of contingency which must be breached before my family is out on the street. In reality, of course, I can sue the insurer (which, if it were a good company, would have re-insured anyway) and there are state funds available in the case of an insolvent insurer; IOW, even more levels of control. Now the possibility of a loss is factored into the premium. Yes, insurance companies can screw up in how they do business. Yet, profitable ones (or ones who want to be profitable) will make the calculation correctly. (And I've had all sorts of claims, from hitting deer on the road to hailstorms damaging roofs, and never once had an insurance company flat out deny the claim.)

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    1. @TLP: But what doth it profit a man to have a good life insurance policy and yet lose his own soul? In any case, your argument in no way undermines the reality of the problem in question or engages with the argument. (Re-read the first sentence of Feser's second paragraph above.)

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  14. Edward Feser, this is an extremely important question. Please read this in order to help me.

    If there is danger in giving up too soon, there is also danger in going to the opposite extreme of a stubbornly naïve optimism that cannot see that a cause is hopeless and that it’s better to cut one’s losses. An insistence on searching for solutions where there are none is a recipe for wasting time, resources, and emotional energy

    What about people who don't have faith in God's existence? Many atheists reach a point in their lives where the arguments for God are so weak that they think it is emotional torture to continue searching. But if they were stubborn to the point of vice/insanity, they would be much better off. Would such seekers be using the same logic of SJW zealots that you criticize here?

    And Aquinas doesn't help on this score. Aquinas said that while an atheist can't be judged for not believing, that defaults to being judged for your sins, and because all sins result in damnation.... Compare and contrast these two hypothetical dialogues.

    AQUINAS: Well, because it is obviously unjust for God to damn someone for not believing, that just means God will have to switch his standard to judging the atheist's personal sins.

    STUDENT: But don't all people sin and all sins deserve eternal damnation?

    AQUINAS: ...then I guess we know what his verdict will be! >:D

    MASTER: You wicked servant! I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? O jailers, have that man be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

    SERVANT EDWARD: But if he's in jail, how is he going to make the money to pay his debt?

    MASTER: Well Edward, I guess we know when he'll get out then, don't we? >:D (Matthew 18:32-34)

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    1. There is a law written on men's hearts. Even for those who, without sin, have been unable to find sufficient evidence for God in the existence, order, and beauty of the natural world, (however few people that might be), they still have SOME sort of internal compass that says "these acts are good" and "those acts are evil". A man who does not gravely violate this compass can be saved without acknowledging a divine being.

      There is no teaching under Catholicism that asserts it is impossible for such a man to never violate that portion of the moral order he recognizes as valid. What Catholicism teaches is that a man cannot succeed in doing so without grace. God makes grace available in a normal way through the sacraments, but he is not limited by those and he also makes grace available other ways. No adult makes his way through life with God never working to assist him to do the good.

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  15. "Many atheists reach a point in their lives where the arguments for God are so weak". Given the whole range of arguments, I doubt that any genuinely intelligent person could find them all "so weak". I think your hypothetical fails at this point - although I agree that if someone had considered all the arguments and found them all weak, he should stick with his atheism. But first he might reflect that some of the most intelligent people who ever lived have found some of the arguments compelling.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Sorry, I realized my previous comment was a digression.

      I disagree. Insane stubbornness is sometimes necessary. It is not a vice to be in stubborn pursuit of a goal. If there is a vice with the liberal viewpoint here, it is something other than stubbornness.

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  16. By the way, Ed, please make another "open thread" soon. They're really good for discussing different topics and arguments. It would be nice to have at least 1 open thread per month

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    1. Agreed!

      I myself have several questions about several different subjects I would really like to get adressed, and it's just boring to have to wait until an article somewhat related to that appears so that I can post!

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    2. There is a classical theism forum:

      https://classicaltheism.createaforum.com/index.php

      But slow these days, though.

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  17. Reminds me of pensions and the age balance ...

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