Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cogito Ergo Sum IX

Descartes, Discourse on Method, Part IV:

Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations; and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search

In the next place, I attentively examined what I was and as I observed that I could suppose that I had no body, and that there was no world nor any place in which I might be; but that I could not therefore suppose that I was not; and that, on the contrary, from the very circumstance that I thought to doubt of the truth of other things, it most clearly and certainly followed that I was; while, on the other hand, if I had only ceased to think, although all the other objects which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking, and which, that it may exist, has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing; so that " I," that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the body, and is even more easily known than the latter, and is such, that although the latter were not, it would still continue to be all that it is.


  1. Jim Bob8:21 AM

    @ Brandon

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. I apologize for the delay in responding, I am sure you are no longer checking these posts. I'll post it to your own blog after a few days.

    The issue of vices conflicting with each other is an interesting issue, but I think unrelated. I am here referring to the vice which is caused by the act of contracepting in particular, not vice in general.

    Your example of anger mitigating “being a pushover” I think is a false comparison, namely because getting angry is not a disordered action by object: intrinsically evil. Being a pushover has more to do with the sin of “human respect” or “respect of persons” than any defect in the passion of anger or the virtue of meekness which controls it. Allowing a passion (anger or otherwise) to subvert reason isn't going to help anyone grow in virtue. I must disagree with your “psychology.”

    A better example would be abortion. Lets say I have AIDS or another serious STD that would be transferred to my unborn child and cause horrible suffering in the child's life. Would you say that it is a step towards morality to abort the child? I am taking the child's welfare into consideration and “taking responsibility” by preventing his suffering. I assume here that you agree that the action of abortion, since it is always wrong in every case, would not be a morally licit option regardless of intention.

    The more a vice is gratified, the harder it is to control. Furthermore, the more vice with a disordered object is gratified, the more disordered the object becomes. This is most easily seen with the rapid perversity which is acquired by the gratification of the sin of lust. Therefore, contracepting does not, even with an intention of “doing well” dispose its agent to any good at all, but rather to further depravity. I am not saying that these people are necessarily going to hell, or whatever you were trying to imply by your last post. I am saying that if they aren't, it will have nothing to do with the contraceptive act. If they have some kind of first step, we must be describing actual grace (by definition this is always the first step! [unless we are pelagian or semi-pelagian]).

    But this wasn't the point of my post, although a necessary premise. The real point is that an unnecessarily controversial example of an ambiguous situation was used for teaching. Why use the example of condoms? Why leak it to the press early? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the media was going to run with this and that it would cause mass confusion about an issue which 98% of Catholics are already dissenting (at least in practice if not belief). The point is this, the Pope (even if he is right in his statement [which I am not convinced]) acted imprudently and in a non-binding fashion. This is a perfect opportunity to catechize concerning the heresy condemned by the first Vatican Council of ultramontanism: the heresy that everything the pope says is authoritative and binding.

  2. branemrys1:02 PM

    The abortion case is not parallel, because using condoms is not intrinsically disordered: the position is that using condoms for contraceptive purposes is intrinsically disordered. That leaves open the possibility that other uses may or may not be, and in context it was clear that other uses were being considered.

    But let's suppose it is parallel. Then the answer to your question is: Yes, it could be a first step (in rare circumstances) and it's absolutely essential to pastoral theology to recognize that it is so. When a priest deals with these matters in the confessional, for instance, one of the key attributes of a good confessor (as also with a good spiritual director) is being able to recognize that even a sin may be an improvement over prior sin, and the Church has a moral responsibility to encourage those who are heading in the right direction. Indeed, it can't help have such a responsibility: all human beings are sinners, and so we all do this to greater or lesser degrees. Even in the case of intrinsically disordered acts, my prior argument still holds, because not all intrinsically disordered acts are equally grave. An intrinsically disordered act that comes from someone who is at least trying to act conscientiously and in consideration of others is better than one that comes from someone who is not; and if one of the latter people begins to be one of the former people, that it is a clear improvement in the direction of morality, and could indeed be a first step to a more moral life.

    The reason the Pope used the example of condoms was that he was explicitly answering a question about the relation between the Church's teaching on contraception and HIV policy. We don't know the reasons behind the leak -- lots of news organizations had advance copies of the book. There was an agreement in place that none of them would publish anything prior to the book actually coming out, but L'Osservatore Romano apparently broke the agreement. We don't know if it had special permission, but despite its special status as the Vatican newspaper of record, it's an independent organization, and the reaction of the Vatican suggests very strongly that it did not have permission. It is extraordinarily implausible to suggest that anyone in the hierarchy specifically selected those passages and required L'O R to publish them, thus breaking a standing agreement in place; rather, it seems to be an attempt by L'O R to drum up readership, which is unfortunately rather consistent with its actions over the past few years.

    But yes, the Pope was not giving a binding opinion. As for imprudence, I find the case for that to be very weak and very speculative, at most establishing that it was not the safest course of action, if it establishes anything; and it is tutiorist to hold that one can never prudently take less than the safest course of action.

  3. branemrys4:19 PM

    Incidentally, there's no problem with leaving comments on old posts; it might take longer to get to them, but I do fairly regularly check the list of comments from the moderation side.

  4. Jim Bob8:46 PM

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    Thank you for another excellent responce!
    I concede that not all instrinsically disordered acts are equaly grave and that the conspiracy theory is implausible (it was sarcasm).
    I deny that the use of condoms is not intrinsically disordered.  I am going to need an argument or citation for this.
    I would like more information concerning your citations of Aquinas and company.  Are you referring to the issue of whether one can merit by acting on an erring conscience?  If possible, could you post where in Aquinas, at least, the following argument is brought out?  I am self taught (most of my formal education has been at the hands of heretics), so there is a lot that I am missing in my understanding of philosophy and theology and appreciate the opportunity to learn something new.
    Ultramontanism is indeed alive and well in the Church today (more unconciously than conciously obviously [you can probably count on your hands the number of people who have even heard of the word]).  For example, supporting JPII when he kissed the Koran, etc.
    </p><p>As for the charge of tutiorism, I don't think it holds. Because of the nature of our media crazed society, the state of the church, and how incredibly easy it is to commit scandal (I guarantee that most Catholics will never hear the truth behind the Pope's statements), I think an argument from prudence is valid.
    </p><p>Once you are ordained as clergy of the Church, you should no longer voice publicly private opinions on theoogy.  Everyone will, practically speaking, see it as representing the Church's position because the cleric represents the Church!  I have found this to be true in the university setiing.  Even in the case when the priest qualifies his position as private opinion, the class always accepted it as authoritative.  This is even more true the higher one goes in hierarchy.  The fact that the Pope's as of late are so prolific in their writings (none of which are protected by their charism of infallibility) is a fairly recently phenomenon.  For the vast majority of Church history, the Papacy was very reserved in their writings, and I think primarily out of prudence.  One great example is the USCCB making economic and political statements that are clearly wrong (in violation of the grave moral obligation of subsidiarity) simply because they are speaking too much, and in this case on matters beyond their competancy.  Sometimes keeping your mouth shut is best.  Not that I am insinuating such of the Pope, let him speak.  But please, make sure it is clear, formal, concrete, and controlled.

  5. branemrys10:28 PM

    <span>I deny that the use of condoms is not intrinsically disordered.  I am going to need an argument or citation for this. </span>

    What citation or argument could you have that the use of condoms is in and of itself intrinsically disordered? There are obvious uses of condoms that are not intrinsically disordered (for instance, using them as balloons); and, as noted in the previous post, the major magisterial documents very clearly only deal with contraceptive intent within marriage. Likewise, it's obvious that if someone knew of the prophylactic but not the contraceptive features of condoms that the use of condoms wouldn't be intrinsically disordered, because nothing can enter into the intrinsic order or disorder of an action of which the agent is genuinely ignorant. So I simply don't know what conceivable basis someone could have for saying that use of condoms, simply speaking, was intrinsically disordered.

    I don't think ultramontanism is especially relevant because most people who treat the Pope's pronouncements as if they were all at the same level aren't even Catholic, or are dissenting Catholics, neither of whom can seriously be called ultramontanist.

    On Aquinas, etc., I was primarily talking about vices impeding other vices and sins diminishing other sins, but yes, conscience would be relevant as well. You've caught me at a very bad time: I'm at the busy end of a very busy term, and putting together the sort of thing you're requesting takes a bit of time to do properly, so I don't know if I'll have time to post anything on the background of this issue in the near future. But to give just one passage as an example, Aquinas says (ST 2-1.76.4 ad 2):

    "One sin added to another makes more sins, but it does not always make a sin greater, since, perchance, the two sins do not coincide, but are separate. It may happen, if the first diminishes the second, that the two together have not the same gravity as one of them alone would have; thus murder is a more grievous sin if committed by a man when sober, than if committed by a man when drunk, although in the latter case there are two sins: because drunkenness diminishes the sinfulness of the resulting sin more than its own gravity implies."

    As I said, I don't see what could support the charge of imprudence; all the arguments I've seen to date only show that the comments were not the safest course of action. But if that's all, it's consistent with prudent action (denying this point is what would be tutiorism). Much more is needed to support a charge of imprudence: one needs to show that it was not only less the safest course of action but also that the Pope in the actual context did nothing to prevent morally dangerous misinterpretation, so that even a reasonable and impartial person, reading the Pope's comments in their actual context, could easily have been misled. It's not imprudent to be misinterpreted, and it's not even always imprudent to speak knowing that you will be misinterpreted by people (otherwise Jesus, who does it quite regularly, would be imprudent). It's only imprudent if it is inconsistent with the end for which it was intended, or if the end for which it was intended is itself inconsistent with the ultimate human end.

    I don't think it would be feasible for clergy never to voice private opinions on theology; such a restriction has never been the practice of the Church, and I think for good reason: it effectively would mean that the hierarchy cannot be allowed to deliberate, that it can never respond to new challenges, and that if any bright minds became priests their intelligence would be completely wasted by not being allowed to improve the way the clergy teach and approach things. It's true that people often take [...]

  6. Jim Bob11:06 PM

    no problem. take it easy and email me when you get a chance.


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