Saturday, October 30, 2010

The catastrophic spider

Immanuel Kant, this great destroyer in the realm of thought, exceeded Maximilian Robespierre in terrorism.

Heinrich Heine, Concerning the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany

Kant… This catastrophic spider…

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Taken as a whole, the Kantian influence on modern Christianity is so deep and pervasive that I believe in makes sense to speak of three great periods of Christian theology, each associated with a dominant philosopher. (1) The first period is the Platonic or Neoplatonic Christianity of the early church fathers; (2) The second is the Aristotelian Christianity of medieval or Scholastic theology; (3) and the third is the Kantian Christianity of the modern age …

As I see it, the validity of the new synthesis depends entirely on one issue: the ability to control Kant, to keep ‘Kant-in-a-box,’ as it were. For pure Kantianism is incompatible with Christianity… [I]f a Kantian conception of autonomy prevails, then God has become the servant of modern humanism and the synthesis is invalid.

Robert P. Kraynak, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy

As I noted in my recent post on God and obligation, from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, God only ever wills in accordance with reason and thus, given that reason is of its nature directed towards the good, only ever wills what is good. But He does so, not in obedience to a law outside Himself, but rather in accordance with His own nature. For He does not “have” rationality or goodness; rather, He is His infinite Intellect, He is perfect Goodness. To use the language central to Kant’s ethics, you might say that He is “autonomous,” that He is a “self-legislator” – that He follows no law save that which is dictated by His own rational nature.

But of course, Kant himself applies these concepts to us. We must in his view be “autonomous” if we are to be truly free – not lawless, to be sure, but not “heteronomous” either, not bound by a law external to us. Rather, we must be “self-legislators,” bound only by a law that is somehow of our own making. Kant also famously describes us as “ends in ourselves,” and holds that a truly moral community is one whose members strive to create a “kingdom of ends,” an order in which all are treated as self-legislating ends in themselves.

These ideas have been enormously influential. They inform the egalitarian liberalism of John Rawls, the libertarianism of Robert Nozick, and even the conservatism of Roger Scruton. As Kraynak emphasizes, they have also permeated contemporary Catholic and Protestant thought. Modern people of all political and religious persuasions have come to see “respect for persons,” “human rights,” “human dignity,””freedom,” and the like – rather than, say, submission to the natural law or to the will of God – as the fundamental categories in terms of which to address moral and political issues. To this extent, “We are all Kantians now.”

But from a traditional Christian point of view, and from a Thomistic point of view, there is something more than a little blasphemous in all of this. For classical natural law theory – the kind which grounds morality in human nature as understood in terms of a classical essentialist (Platonic, Aristotelian, or Scholastic) metaphysics – it is hard to see how human beings could intelligibly be described as “self-legislators” or “autonomous.” In no sense are we the source of the nature that determines our ends, including the end of reason itself; God alone is that. Hence nature, and ultimately God – rather than the individual reason of the moral agent – are what ground the content and obligatory force of the moral law. As Aquinas says:

In this way God Himself is the measure of all beings… Hence His intellect is the measure of all knowledge; His goodness, of all goodness; and, to speak more to the point, His good will, of every good will. Every good will is therefore good by reason of its being conformed to the divine good will. Accordingly, since everyone is obliged to have a good will, he is likewise obliged to have a will conformed to the divine will. (QDV 23.7)

Or as Someone once put it, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” If that is heteronomy, so much the worse for Kantian autonomy.

The “ends in themselves” talk is no less suspect. Aquinas explicitly considers the question of whether “man himself were his own last end,” and answers that “man's last end is something outside of him, to wit, God” (ST I-II.3.5) since “all things are ordered to one good as their end, and that is God” (SCG III.17.6, emphasis added). Given the metaphysics underlying classical natural law theory, describing man as an “end in himself” is, like the idea of man as “self-legislator,” simply unintelligible. Of course, that same metaphysics informs the classical theist conception of God that we have recently been exploring in a series of posts, and it is precisely what makes it the case that such talk is intelligible when applied to God, and to God alone.

Thus, the abandonment of that metaphysics has resulted not only in an anthropomorphizing of God, bringing Him closer to man’s level – the classical theist’s complaint against theistic personalism – but also in a deification of man, raising him to the level of God. Modern people like to think that the first of the Ten Commandments is the one no one breaks anymore; after all, when is the last time you saw someone bow down to an idol? But we are blindest to the sins we are most in thrall to. Idolatry is in fact the defining sin of modernity, and it is all the worse for being directed at man. The ancient pagan at least knew enough to worship something higher than himself.

For this reason it is a grave error to think that the only problem with Kantian “self-legislator” and “ends in themselves” talk is that, absent the sort of moral standards that were taken for granted in Kant’s own time, it has a tendency to degenerate into a kind of libertinism. If you honor your parents, you do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, and do not covet, you do well. You will have fulfilled what Christ called the second commandment – to love one’s neighbor. But you will not have fulfilled the first and greatest – to love God above all things. And if the reason you obey the second is precisely to honor man as an end in himself, you are in danger of violating the first and greatest. Kant himself was, of course, a very austere man; he would have been absolutely horrified at what liberals and libertarians now defend in the name of “autonomy.” Accordingly, the original sin of Kantianism is not abortion, fornication, dope smoking or the like. It is, rather, the codification of modern man’s blasphemous self-obsession, the raising of “It’s all about me” to a moral first principle. And the blasphemy is only heightened, not lessened, if the only reason the blasphemer refrains from the sins in question is that he thinks them incompatible with his pathological self-regard.

To be clear, I am not saying that anyone who uses Kantian language is guilty of blasphemy. As Kraynak emphasizes, Christian thinkers who have made use of it often transform it in the process, so as to make it compatible with Christian theology and natural law. But Kraynak is also keen to emphasize, quite rightly in my view, that the emphasis modern Christians often put on the Kantian moral categories is unwise. At its best, it is little more than a marketing gimmick, an attempt to “sell” traditional morality to the citizens of modern, liberal, secularized societies by showing them that it follows from premises to which they are already committed. And it rarely if ever works, because modern secular liberals are well aware that orthodox Christians and traditionalists do not interpret the premises in question the same way they do. Chanting “human dignity” and “respect for persons” like mantras is not going to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you to oppose abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and the like, precisely because human dignity and respect for persons are themselves highly contested concepts. What you need to do is to show exactly how the practices in question are incompatible with human dignity, and that means (I would argue) getting into precisely the sorts of classical natural law considerations one had hoped to be able to sidestep. There are no shortcuts. But then the “human dignity” and “respect for persons” stuff falls away as otiose.

At its worst, use of the Kantian categories can seriously distort our understanding of what natural law theory and Christian teaching actually entail, even when applied by otherwise traditionally-minded thinkers. To take just one example, “new natural law” theorists, who have a reputation for upholding Catholic orthodoxy and who have done admirable work in defending traditional sexual morality and opposing abortion and euthanasia, have also in recent years tended toward the view that capital punishment is unjust even in principle. This not only goes beyond anything the Catholic Church has ever taught, but (as I have argued elsewhere) is simply incompatible with both Catholic teaching and classical natural law theory. But (as I also argue in the piece linked to) it is not entirely unsurprising that they should reach such a conclusion given that, like Kant, they eschew any appeal to human nature understood in terms of essentialist metaphysics and instead ground their position in a theory of practical reason that puts the ends of the moral agent himself (rather than the ends set for us by nature or the will of God) in the driver’s seat.

Nietzsche famously characterized Kant as a “catastrophic spider” because he took him to have insinuated an essentially Christian morality into the secular German philosophical tradition. The truth is that he insinuated an essentially un-Christian morality into the Christian tradition, and into Western civilization as a whole. Rather than appropriating this work, conservatives and Christians should strive to undo it. Kraynak is right, we need to keep Kant in a box. A pine box, with a stake through his heart.


  1. This is a very interesting post, thanks for a good read.

    You write: "Or as Someone once put it, 'Not my will, but Thine, be done.' If that is heteronomy, so much the worse for Kantian autonomy."

    I actually don't think Christian ethics is most plausibly understood as heteronomous. If the Christian is tasked with becoming Christ-like, then he should come to resemble Christ in his will. He will try to make God's will part of his own; he will try to will not just what God wills, but as God wills. This isn't straightforwardly autonomous, but it's not heteronomous either. I think this is a very rich area of Christian ethics well worth exploring further.

  2. Matt:

    "Heteronomy," for Kant, had a very specific meaning: rather than the object (What Kant bizarrely calls its "matter") of our actions determining its moral worth, the act itself (its "form") should fill that role. (Cf. ST I-II:18:2) And such a view of ethics simply is not compatible with genuinely orthodox Christian ethics. Period.


    Thanks for the great post! I've often felt sceptical myself about John Paull II-variety "personalism" in Christian ethics, along with the concomitant admiration for democracy. I'll also look into to Kraynak's book, it seems like an interesting read.

  3. Excellent post, as usual. Just out of curiosity, how would you compare Aristotle's view of true friendship with Kant's belief in the neighbour as an end in himself?

    That Finnis et al. (whom I generally like, actually) should oppose capital punishment on Kantian grounds is perplexing: the Copernicus of philosophy is quite explicit in his embrace of the death penalty as the only valid retribution for murder in his The Science of Right.

  4. Ed,
    I'm not sure if you're aware or not, but Rob Koons (from the University of Texas) gave a presentation at the recent Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith conference that responded to your reading of Aquinas in regards to ID. It was a good presentation, and although I don't have the audio, I'm sure he would send you the notes if you requested them.

  5. Wow. I have never in my life encountered the word 'otiose.'

    the WV for this post is 'folys,' which strikes me as amusing.

  6. Odd that you consider Kant the source of modern concern for human dignity and rights. I would think that John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" was much more influential.

    I think you're being unfair to Kant as well, but don't understand the issues well enough to argue the point.

  7. But, of course, the supplantation of Kantian morality in particular and liberal morality at large by a traditional Christian morality will first require that people once again start to believe that objective "human natures" really exist, or that they at least start take the concept seriously and not wave it away as if it's nothing more than fluffy, mystical, obfuscatory, and empty language. This will require, among other things, that the most historically influential and the most currently dominant anti-essentialist metaphysical systems be refuted. Therefore, we must directly and thoroughly refute Kant's transcendental philosophy, via demonstrating that it “stumbles” or is “fatally ambiguous” at critical junctures, before we can totally sway other people away from the modes of thinking introduced in his practical philosophy.

    That said, my big problems with Kant's transcendental philosophy are as follows. Keep in mind that I am not up to date on recent Kant scholarship; I’m no Kant scholar, so forgive me if I appear to be misrepresenting him:

  8. (cont.)

    1) The crucial ambiguity surrounding the term “noumena.” In Kant's philosophy, objective knowledge is only attained through the combined operation of the sensibility and the understanding, through the synthesis of an intuition with an a priori concept (category) of the understanding. This is the only way a judgment can be formed, and judgments are what knowledge consists in. However, these concepts have a habit of wanting to stretch beyond mere appearances and a subjective point of view to the insensible “thing-in-itself” and the perspectiveless point of view, but since, in these cases, the faculty of sensibility is never utilized, concepts applied to things not presented to us in experience must always be “empty” and cannot give us such knowledge, as these things can never be organized according to the forms of intuition of space and time. Thus, we can only get a priori knowledge of appearances, not of the “thing in itself.” Here, Kant says, is where the distinction of the phenomena and noumena is useful. “Phenomena” is a broad term that covers all the objects of possible experience, i.e. the “appearances” of which we get objective, a priori knowledge, whereas “noumena” covers all the unknowable “things in themselves.”

    However, Kant elsewhere states that it is an error for us to think of a noumenon as a “thing” or “entity,” as in A.255, he seems to suggest that the term be used purely negatively to delineate the limits of experience, not positively (“inadmissible in the positive sense”). At the same time, though, Kant has a tendency to speak of an appearance as an appearance of something. So which is it? If the term “noumena” is purely negative and is thus just a kind of proxy term, how can we equate them with “things in themselves”?

    2) The completely gratuitous nature of the thing-in-itself (TTII). The thing-in-itself is alleged to be the ultimate cause of our appearances. However, the thing-in-itself cannot be said to be a cause, because “cause” is designated by Kant to be one of the a priori categories of the understanding, i.e. the “logical forms of judgment” – the “rules” by which we construct and lay claim to the entire phenomenal realm of experience (I take this “rules” interpretation of the categories due to Kant’s extraordinary claims from A126 to A127, a chief claim of which is as follows: “The understanding is thus not merely a faculty for making rules through the comparison of the appearances; it is itself the legislation for nature, i.e., without understanding there would not be any nature at all, i.e., synthetic unity of the manifold of appearances in accordance with rules; for appearances, as such, cannot occur outside us, but exist only in our sensibility.”). Thus, the categories of the understanding do not apply to the things-in-themselves.

    However, if the thing-in-itself is not the ultimate cause of our sensations, why assume that it exists at all? Why not embrace absolute idealism and say appearances are all that exist and that they are not issued forth from something external to our minds? The entire concept of TTII seems to be purely gratuitous.
    If there is any merit to that argument against TTII, then it is important to note the effect that the collapse of TTII would have on the rest of Kant’s transcendental philosophy: If putting the concept of TTII at play in the CPR leads the TTII to be gratuitous or even self-contradictory, then we must give up the concept of TTII, and if we give it up, we must also give up the idea of sensation having its origins in an external source. And thus we’re left with absolute idealism: phenomenological experience has its beginning and end in us.

    1. I really liked that and agree fully. Prof Feser has also pointed out the fact that modern representative theories presuppose knowing the real world or the reliability of sense experience derived objects could not be asserted as true. I am an amateur so forgive the sloppy expression of the point I hoped to make.

  9. Aquinas on friendship: just a link for reference:

  10. Dr Feser:

    This may be of interest to your readers: I have set up a blog in which I will post, with my glosses, Aquinas' Summa contra gentiles, chapter by chapter, at least twice weekly.

    I am still thinking about the translation. I will contact the people you mentioned in your email.


  11. A look at page 193 of this edition of The Chesterton Review will show that Stanley Jaki--no mean scholar, and not a Thomist "fanboy" (gotta nip those genetic fallacies in the bud, I guess)--also viewed Kant as a bane to Christian theology. Less known, perhaps, is how negatively Jaki viewed Kant's impact on science, for similar reasons, actually.

  12. It's interesting that Ayn Rand thought that Kant was "the most evil person in history" because (among other things) he tried to rescue Christianity from Enlightenment attacks. Her followers (such as Leonard Peikoff) even blame the holocaust on Kant.

    Most evangelicals aren't fans of Kant either.

  13. Idolatry is in fact the defining sin of modernity, and it is all the worse for being directed at man. The ancient pagan at least knew enough to worship something higher than himself

    "Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners."

    - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

  14. Hey Codge

    I responded to your PT query in the previous combox.

    On Kant - wasn;t Trancendental Thomism an attempt to mold a Catholic Theology arount Kantian idealism, like for Bernard Lonergan?

    Ed, if you want to drive a stake in the heart of a philosopher, for God's sake - and that of all non-human animals - do it to Descartes.

  15. Thanks Ed - I now understand why Cesare Pavese (in "The business of living") refers to Kant as a lurid idiot.

  16. JT:

    Yes, I saw your responses, thanks for keeping the flame alive heheh. I'm impressed that you are willing to admit PT has lost some luster for you, thus shaking the ideologue-troll vibe some might too easily get from you.

    I didn't get around to posting the excerpts from the SCG I wanted to this weekend (had a cold etc.), but I still have them in the barrel, so check in at my blog now and then.

    Also, my interest is certainly piqued by Fr. Felt's work, thanks for the lead.

    As for Descartes and Feserian stakes, I believe the good doctor has stated in numerous ways why he rejects--and why we should reject--Descartes' anthropology.


  17. Despite my official disagreement with and de jure disdain for Kantianism, I admit to having a soft spot in my heart for the witty old Prussian. I believe the Phantom Blogger once posted a link to lecture by Keith Ward which tries to rehabilitate the properly theo-logical basis of Kant's work.

    I was also impressed with Paul Janz's sympathetic exegesis of Kant as a Christian thinker.

    even granting all this, however, the rub lies in the fact that Kant is (ahem) "at best" a Protestant philosopher and hence is already that far outside the Aristhomistic pale.

  18. @ Codgitator,

    I know where that soft spot comes from. Western philosophy has never produced anyone who could scrutinize the pure spirit (i.e. the purely rational faculty) with the same exactitude as Immanuel Kant. His particular intuition that philosophy must address itself to unpacking the inner mechanics of spirit qua spirit lends his thought a universal, systematic quality that has not been attained since. Kant convinces us that philosophy is really "about something" after all, that it has a real object, and is not just speculation and hand-wringing. Furthermore, his approach has proven itself to be of immense value in practical disciplines. (For instance, I once read an excerpt in which Voegelin quoted Kant's rigorous refutation of Darwinian evolution -- decades before Darwin even came on the scene.)

    Yet I must agree with Dr. Faser that Kant's thoughts on morality (or, more precisely, what has been made by others of Kant's thoughts on morality) fall decidedly flat. I think Kant's ambitions in the Groundwork were much humbler than they are often taken to be. I think that Kant was simply trying to provide a good working definition of the concept of "good will." That is, he was trying to say those things about goodness which philosophers in particular have a right to say, given their special training in logic and semantics. All this rot about "Kantian Republics" dished out by John Rawls an others is well beyond the scope of Kant's original intentions.

    Nevertheless, his intentions were still vulnerable to this sort of tommyrot, and he remains cuplable for that. Natural and Divine Law are the only sources of law for us (thank God).

  19. Codge

    Thanks for reposting the Ward vod, I had forgotten about how much I liked it when it was first mentioned back a while.

    Ward paraphrases Kant: 'theoretical agnosticism, but practical commitment,' and such is the stuff of faith. This is almost spot on with what I believe. And the creative works of process and personalist theologies are, in my mind, propositional reasons one should consider in order to shore up such faith and maintain the practically commitment.

    Get that stake out of Kant!.

  20. Kant's be;ief that God is your highest moral commitment is equak to Tillich's ;Ultimate Concern.'

  21. I sense a lost cause here. The autonomy cat is out of the bag, and nothing can put it back. Once one has considered the possibility of one's being autonomous, one is. However, through reason, one can figure out that one's autonomy is still more potential than actual, due to one's being a sinner, and so choose to put God ahead of self, as being in the best interests of the self. But that is still self-legislation. In other words, I see no value in trying to revert to an ethical system that no longer works (because human essence has changed), but value in getting to more or less the same morality working with the changed human essence. (How can an essence change? Well, that's another important metaphysical question.)

  22. How can an essence change? Well, that's another important metaphysical question.

    I'm no metaphysician, but like everyone else, I play one on this blog.

    Imagine a really large wash bucket, say 3 ft. diameter that is out in the yard and used to bathe the dog. You are outside when it simultaneously starts pouring down rein, and you need to run several hundred feet to raise thw top on your convertible BMW, so you grab the bucket flip it over and use it as an umbrella to repel water.

    What is the true essence of this artifact? How relevant is it to say it was designed with a final cause?

  23. I guess we--or I--miss all the fun by staying at Doc Feser's blog, rather than diving into the cross-posts at W4 heheh. But it's a pleasant little villa here.


    I may be ignorant of the default response to "teleology in artifacts" but here is my initial reaction to your scenario:

    The closer something is to pure matter, the more it is in potency to form. In your scenario, we're dealing with something so basic that it is hard to say it has only one form, and hence, that it has only one final end. It's like asking what the "end" of dirt is: it's too matter-dominant a substance to specify itself; whereas, the higher we go up "the great chain of being," the more things, so to speak, formally assert themselves (vegetative, sensitive, rational, intellective, etc. forms). At bottom, however, the object you describes does preserve one form throughout all its shifts in teleology, namely, to form a distinct barrier between one side and another as regards water.

    I must also say that I'm perplexed a would-have-been Dominican seems unaware of the huge theme of "trahi a Deo" in Augustinian/Thomistic dogmatics. If the "lure of the divine" is what makes PT appealing to you--i.e. that God is constantly energizing all things to draw them to Himself--, then you're just allured by Thomism, actually. Look through any selection of readings on Aquinas for the theme "God as the end of all things." Also check out the work of Fr Keefe (search my blog: covenantal, eucharistic, Keefian, etc.).


  24. Codger, a Nice post.

    I may have to go over and lurk at the neo-cons only site, too. On second thought, there is probably enough self-certainty to deal with here.

    Your take on form, matter, and potency was enlightening, even for a non-essentialist like I think I am. I did not know an essence was a matter of degree, like, this is more human than that, or this is more formally complex, so better art than that. So a wonderfully complex work of sculpture evoking an out-of-body proprioceptive vertigo-like emotion is purchased from the Guggenheim and placed in a schoolyard playground by a wealthy benefactor who thought its intricate extensive weavings would help build stamina *in * kids’ bodies. Again, I see this as formal essence does not imply one and only one end, and the exact nature of the form itself is not a constant, even for solid matter artifacts.

    I suppose an expert on the role of essentialist metaphysics in art interpretation might answer the above with a tome on aesthetics, but I would invoke Pirsig’s spirit and comment that writing about beauty is seldom pretty.

    I was brought up Catholic, and I probably put above average time and effort studying the writings of its saints and priests (never Aquinas, though, as he was never recommended to me). If I was to affiliate myself, it might be more with Franciscans, though if they too are chained to Aquinas as most Catholic thinkers seem to be, I might rebel if they seem to subjucate the man of Assisi to the one from Aquinas.

    If the "lure of the divine" is what makes PT appealing to you--i.e. that God is constantly energizing all things to draw them to Himself--…

    I see the PT God luring us, not to his essence, but to experience ever more creativity with the greater novelty and adventure it brings forth through the efforts and decisions of caring subjects seeking to advance the world we inhabit. God’s luring at any moment advances us, as we experience living, living well, and living better. He is with us and feels us as together, we surpass our objectivity with ever-richer subjectivity.

  25. I may have to go over and lurk at the neo-cons only site, too

    ?? What an absolutely bizarre way to characterize W4 (if that's what you were referring to), most of whose contributors are rather obviously closer to paleo-cons, if anything. (In my case, I'm neither a paleo nor a neo.)

  26. Oh wait, I forgot: "Neo-con" means "anything the user of the word 'neo-con' doesn't like." Silly me!

  27. Ed

    Geez, I'm sorry - I didn't know there were difference types.

    I'll be more careful. (But they are exclusive there.)

  28. Our natural will is God’s will, so I am not sure what sense heteronomy makes.

    An apple seed is made in the image of an apple tree, and given the right environment it will by nature grow into an apple tree. It is in the nature of the apple to grow into an apple tree, but nobody would say that the apple seed has an “obligation” to grow into an apple tree. One has obligations to one’s boss or to one’s wife or to one’s children, but not to one’s creator or to one’s nature. The concept of “obligation” makes sense only in contexts where there is an implicit contractual agreement.

  29. I read Ed’s piece on capital punishment, and it occurred to me that philosophers should here and then make a pause and do a reality check. After all, Christians are the followers of the way of Christ, and not of the thought of Aristotle or of Aquinas or of St. Paul. And making such a reality check I see no way one can harmonize retributive punishment, never mind capital punishment, with Christ’s teaching about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, and forgiving those who wrong us.

    In his current piece Ed speaks, I think rightly, about the idols of the modern age. But idols come in many forms, and what makes an idol is not what it is but one’s attitude towards it. Surely some peoples’ attitude towards the Bible converts it into an idol made of paper. Now it seems to me that thoughts too can be made into idols. Thoughts are tools for discovering the truth, and all truth is God’s. But if one follows thoughts without checking where they lead then one converts them into idols. And it is easy to check where thoughts lead: If they lead one into Christ’s path then they lead to the truth; if not they lead into deception. For, as Christ in the Gospels says, by its fruit one recognizes truth.

  30. "After all, Christians are the followers of the way of Christ, and not of the thought of Aristotle or of Aquinas"

    You came to the wrong place.

  31. Quick Question-

    Why is smoking pot in contradiction with Natural Law Theory? Just curiosity on my part, I'm interested to see what Aquinas/Doctor Feser would say on the matter.

  32. I don't think that smoking pot per se contradicts the natural law at all, and I'm not sure anybody ever suggested as much. A habit of intoxication would contradict the natural law, as would engaging in officially proscribed activities, but neither of these should be confused with the deed itself.

  33. You can make a natural law case against marijuana smoking as an act.
    1. Humans are fulfilled in the usage of their rational faculties.
    2. Marijuana smoking undermines our rational faculties.
    3. I ought not to smoke marijuana.

    Obviously each of the premises would require more explication. But you can make a perfectly respectable case here.

    Of course, we depend on the axioms that "fulfilling our nature" is what it means for something to be good, and that we ought to do good because we desire the good (hypothetical imperative). But that's more basic meta-ethics.

  34. @awatkins: Hmm... I'm not sure I can agree with that argument. After all, sleep, marital sex, and any number of other activities hinder our rational faculties. You could, I suppose, qualify your argument by saying that marijuana unduly or inordinately hinders the exercise of our rational faculties, but then you have to be willing to provide a decent but non-tautological account of what constitutes ordinacy or inordinacy, which is no mean feat.

  35. I would be interested in hearing you interact with more modern interactions with Kantian autonomy, especially that of Levinas (and perhaps Derrida), which, whether successful or not, was an attempt to be scriptural (though, obviously, not Christian).

  36. You state that it is unintelligible that humans be considered autonomous. I think that this is a blanket statement that doesn't even align with Thomism. Isn't our free will to some degree autonomous? Aquinas himself states that nothing absolutely compels us to do any one thing rather than another. As such, anything we do is, in some way, self-done. There might be some degree of being compelled on certain levels (for example, we all desire the good, we all perform basic abstractions of essences) but on the whole, what really counts as proper intelligible content is self-given in some manner (i.e., our desiring a specific good, our affirming a certain judgement).