Kozinski is pretty tendentious straight out of the gate. He writes:
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Reply to Kozinski
I’ve been meaning to write up a response to Thaddeus Kozinski’s post at Ethika Politika criticizing my recent piece on David Bentley Hart’s views about natural law. Brandon Watson has already pointed out some of the problems with Kozinski’s article, but it’s worth making a few remarks. Kozinski is the author of the important recent book The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism, and I have enjoyed the articles of his that I’ve read over the years. However, this latest piece seems to me to manifest some of the foibles of too much post-Scholastic theology -- in particular, a tendency to conflate a view’s no longer being current with its having been proved wrong; a failure to make crucial conceptual distinctions; and a tendency to caricature the views of writers of a Scholastic bent.
Kozinski is pretty tendentious straight out of the gate. He writes:
The classical view of metaphysics, at least as articulated by Edward Feser, presupposes an extrinsicist understanding of the relation of nature and grace, and reason and Faith, and is, therefore, not Thomistic. It’s as if Feser has not read, or just not digested, the work of John Milbank, Tracey Rowland, and Alasdair MacIntyre.
Needless to say, that is a false alternative, since one could, of course, know and understand the views of Milbank and Rowland and simply think they are wrong. (MacIntyre I do not necessarily disagree with about the specific matters at issue in Kozinski’s article, but neither is what he says incompatible with what I have said. More on that below.)
For those not in the know, “extrinsicist” is a buzzword for Nouvelle Theologie writers who like to think that the centuries-old tradition of Aquinas commentators, and the Neo-Scholastics in particular, somehow all got Aquinas wrong on questions of nature and grace, natural and supernatural. When Kozinski says “not Thomistic,” what he really means is “not Thomistic as Nouvelle Theologie writers like de Lubac would reconstruct Thomas.” And naturally, whether these writers get Aquinas right is itself a matter of controversy. Indeed, there is a growing wave of reaction against the Nouvelle Theologie’s reaction against the tradition of the commentators. It’s as if Kozinski has not read, or just not digested, Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters, Steven A. Long’s Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (a book praised by MacIntyre, let it be noted), Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers, Bernard Mulcahy’s Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac, or Serge-Thomas Bonino’s edited volume Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought.
In any event, Kozinski’s false alternative follows a straw man. He starts out the article as follows:
What is at the heart of the debate over Hart? It is this: both the classical and new natural law schools are wrong if they think that the natural law can be known, lived, and legislated in abstraction from tradition and culture, which is, at heart, theological.
And Kozinski glosses this (by itself somewhat vague) characterization as follows:
In my view, both the classical and the new traditions neglect these four realities: 1) the mutually dependent relation of speculative and practical reason; 2) the subjectivity-shaping role of social practices; 3) the tradition-constituted-and-constitutive character of practical rationality; and 4) the indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry and practice.
End quote. Let’s consider these points in order. Why Kozinksi thinks that classical natural law writers “neglect… the mutually dependent relation of speculative and practical reason,” I have no idea. Classical natural law theory, as I noted in my article on Hart, is the approach to natural law that was standard in Neo-Scholastic manuals of ethics and moral theology in the pre-Vatican II period and in more recent decades has been defended by writers like Ralph McInerny, Henry Veatch, Russell Hittinger, David Oderberg, and Anthony Lisska. If you read the old manuals, you will find that they are steeped in the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of essences and final causality. Veatch advocated what he called an “ontology of morals.” Lisska devoted a book (also praised by MacIntyre, for what it is worth) to showing how natural law in the tradition of Aquinas is grounded in a metaphysics of essences and dispositional properties. Oderberg is no less keen to insist on “The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law.” In my own case, as my longtime readers know, I absolutely never shut up about how ethics must be grounded in classical metaphysics. And all of these writers would, I think, agree that ethics is also relevant to metaphysics insofar as in our knowledge of our own nature and rational and volitional powers we have examples of finality even more obvious and undeniable than those we see in the extra-human world.
So, where does Kozinksi get this idea that classical natural law theorists ignore the relationship between practical and speculative reason? Again, I have no idea; certainly he provides no textual or philosophical support for this claim whatsoever. “New natural law” theory might be accused of ignoring the relationship in question -- I’ll let its advocates defend themselves if they want to, since as an “old” natural law theorist I think that particular charge against them is just -- but the classical version? Not a chance.
What about this idea that natural law theory neglects “the subjectivity-shaping role of social practices” and “the tradition-constituted-and-constitutive character of practical rationality“? Here too we have nothing but sheer assertion, unsupported either by quotations from natural law writers or philosophical analysis of the implications of their position. And here too the characterization of natural law theory is simply wrong. While I don’t necessarily buy everything that lies behind the passages from MacIntyre that Kozinski cites, the general idea that moral reasoning must always take place within a concrete social, historical, and cultural context is true enough as far as it goes. Indeed, that reason and morality are unavoidably embedded in tradition is a thesis I’ve defended many times myself, such as here, here, and here. How does this thesis conflict with anything natural law writers say? Kozinski does not tell us.
Kozinski’s complaint is not a historicist or relativist one to the effect that there are no tradition- or culture-independent moral truths, for he evidently endorses the view that practical reason is “able and inherently ordered to transcend particularity and contingency to reach universal and necessary truth” and affirms the reality of an “intrinsic and necessary human nature and set of inclinations.” So what’s the problem, exactly?
Perhaps Kozinski supposes that natural law theorists think that every individual is capable of spinning out the whole of morality from first principles, divorced from any context, from the armchair as it were. But I know of no natural law theorist, “old” or “new,” who believes such a thing. The natural law theorist claims merely that at least a good deal of morality, at least at the level of general principle, can be known in principle through philosophical reasoning apart from divine revelation (“natural law” being in this respect like “natural theology”); and also (in the case of “old” natural law theorists) that this knowledge can be had from the study of human nature. But that is a far cry from saying that every human being or even very many human beings are in fact likely to arrive at explicit knowledge even of the general principles; and it certainly does not entail that the details of morality or the way moral principles ought to be applied to concrete circumstances can be arrived at in the abstract, divorced from concrete circumstances.
On the contrary, natural law theorists would follow Aquinas’s position that human law is required in order to give the natural law a “more particular determination” is some of its aspects, and that (as a passage Aquinas approvingly quotes from Tully puts it):
[J]ustice has its source in nature; thence certain things came into custom by reason of their utility; afterwards these things which emanated from nature and were approved by custom, were sanctioned by fear and reverence for the law. (Summa Theologiae I-II.91.3)
Natural law theorists would also follow Aquinas’s view that what we can know by philosophical arguments alone is in practice typically incomplete, mixed with error, and arrived at only by a few. Vis-à-vis natural theology, Aquinas writes:
Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. (Summa Theologiae I.1.1)
He says something similar about ethics:
[O]n account of the uncertainty of human judgment, especially on contingent and particular matters, different people form different judgments on human acts; whence also different and contrary laws result (Summa Theologiae I-II.91.4)
Needless to say, these passages evince the opposite of a “Cartesian” view that would purport to discover moral truth “ex nihilo or, perhaps, ex individuo in [one’s] self-consciousness” via an “‘unaided’ or ‘pure’ form of reason” divorced from tradition, history, and the like (to cite Kozinski’s description of the sort of view he opposes). And if Kozinski thinks that natural law theorists -- who are, especially in the case of us “old” natural law theorists, notoriously deferential to Aquinas -- hold that the Angelic Doctor got things wrong in these particular passages, I’d love to see the quotes from their works that back this claim up.
This naturally brings us to the charge that natural law theorists “neglect… the indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry and practice.” As the passages from Aquinas just quoted indicate, to claim that a great deal of moral truth is in principle knowable via unaided reason is in no way to deny that in practice -- given the difficulty of philosophical reasoning and the errors to which we are prone -- divine revelation is needed in order for most people to have adequate knowledge even of the natural law.
As Aquinas also emphasizes, divine revelation is necessary for all people if they are to have knowledge of what is necessary for us in order to attain our supernatural end -- the beatific vision, which transcends what we are naturally ordered to. He writes:
Besides the natural and the human law it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have a Divine law. And this for four reasons. First, because it is by law that man is directed how to perform his proper acts in view of his last end. And indeed if man were ordained to no other end than that which is proportionate to his natural faculty, there would be no need for man to have any further direction of the part of his reason, besides the natural law and human law which is derived from it. But since man is ordained to an end of eternal happiness which is inproportionate to man's natural faculty, as stated above (Question 5, Article 5), therefore it was necessary that, besides the natural and the human law, man should be directed to his end by a law given by God... (Summa Theologiae I-II.91.4)
There are two points here that require equal emphasis in the present context. First, the natural and supernatural ends of man are distinct -- so much so that to the realization of our natural end alone a “further direction” from divine revelation would not be strictly necessary, even if it is in practice fitting given the limitations of human nature. (This does not mean, by the way, that knowledge of God is not necessary for attainment of man’s purely natural end -- the knowledge of God we can acquire via natural theology is certainly necessary -- only that a special divine revelation is not necessary for that end.)
The second point to emphasize is, of course, that for our supernatural end -- the beatific vision, which surpasses merely natural knowledge of God -- revelation is necessary. But this is a separate end. And that means that while the full story about man must include reference to both his natural and supernatural ends and to what is needed in order to realize each, there is in principle a body of moral knowledge that concerns man as he would have been in a state of pure nature.
Now, citing Jacques Maritain, Kozinski writes:
[A]ny science of human action that excludes the realm of the supernatural from its purview is deficient, and radically so. There is no such thing as “pure ethics” if that means a discourse or methodology that excludes consideration of what God has revealed about the destiny of man.
If what Kozinski means by that is that the full story about the good for man must include both the natural and supernatural ends, then no natural law theorist (or no Catholic natural law theorist, anyway) would deny that. But if he means that the natural law as such cannot be understood even in principle without reference to man’s supernatural end, then he’s just wrong. It would not, in that case, be natural law. Certainly he could not appeal to Aquinas in defense of such a claim -- and not to Maritain either, as Kozinski himself realizes, acknowledging that:
Maritain does distinguish between moral philosophy and moral theology, with the former relatively autonomous in its methodology and conclusions, and resolving its judgments in the light of human reason alone.
So once again, we have to ask what exactly Kozinski’s beef with natural law is. And once again the answer just isn’t clear. On the one hand Kozinski tells us, following Maritain, that “ethical inquiry is incomplete and bound to err if it is not ‘subalternated’ to theology” -- a claim which on one natural reading is just what the natural law theorist, following Aquinas, acknowledges in light of the difficulty, for most people, of philosophical reasoning and the fact that the complete story about man must include his supernatural end. On the other hand, Kozinski acknowledges -- once again following Maritain -- that “moral philosophy… is distinct from theology in that it resolves its judgments in the natural light of practical reason and experience, not the light of divine revelation.” And of course, Maritain, to whose views Kozinski appeals in at least much of his article, was himself a natural law theorist! So, what exactly is it that natural law theorists have gotten wrong? In particular, what exactly is it that I got wrong vis-à-vis revelation, the supernatural, etc. in my article on Hart? The reader’s guess is as good as mine.
The rest of Kozinski’s article seems even more radically disconnected from anything I actually said in my reply to Hart -- and more opaque too. For example, Kozinski writes:
Conservative theists such as Feser endorse wholeheartedly the infusion of integrally religious practices and discourse into the naked public square; yet they also tend to limit the participation in and scope of these practices and discourses to the in-house crowd, as it were.
End quote. I’m not sure what to say about this except that I am not even sure what exactly he is attributing to me, nor how what I said in my reply to Hart (or anywhere else for that matter) prompted such a strange attribution!