Saturday, March 12, 2011

Some Links

* Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistani minister for minorities, was recently martyred; the local bishops are considering whether to begin the process for recognizing him as such officially.

* Christopher Blosser has pulled together many of the major moments of the debate on lying that took up so much of February. The dispute has at times become acrimonious, and I am thoroughly unimpressed with some of the arguments that were made, but, frankly, overall it shows just how much there is to the Catholic blogosphere: there is probably no other part of the blogosphere that is at once so large, so diverse, and yet in which everyone involved, regardless of their background, is capable of sharing such a philosophically rich heritage, that it could sustain an intellectual discussion of ethics with this extent and depth.

* Speaking of which, Tom also had a good round-up. (You can find GoogleTranslate's English version here.)

* I am 100% in agreement with Eric Schliesser on philosophy here. I've discussed the Santayana book before, and looked at some ways we can genuinely learn from literature, and discussed Wordsworth as a philosophical poet (also here).

* Errol Morris has an amusing story about how Thomas Kuhn threw an ashtray at his head. Although the question about incommensurability would have made me groan, too; it's remarkable how people don't recall their basic geometry in trying to figure out what it means. (It is much the same in his Part II, where he picks out, from all the criticisms of Kuhn, the least intelligent criticisms of incommensurability, the ones that involve an inability or failure or refusal to see the distinction between "unable to be compared" and "unabled to be measured using exactly the same terms.") Daniel looks at a related issue in Morris's Part III.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Till a Casket from the Witchwood Bears My Body to the Grave

A song that keeps playing in my head recently:

I'll be visiting family over the next few days, so posting will probably be quite light until Wednesday at least.

On Ontological Arguments

I haven't been keeping up recently on what has been going on in the atheist blogosphere, but apparently there's been some discussion of the ontological argument; Sean Carroll gives links and his own discussion.

One of the things I think is interesting is that not a single one of the posts, and this includes Sean's, which however at least makes an effort, shows a real sign that the authors know what they are talking about. One of the tell-tale signs of this is the repeated talk of "the ontological argument" as if there were one, which leads them repeatedly to conflate elements of completely different arguments. Sean, for instance, outright says, "Anselm assumes that perfection is possible, and that to exist necessarily is more perfect than to exist contingently," which is quite the feat given that Anselm's argument doesn't involve any premises concerned with perfection or contingency or necessity. To be fair, he's misled here by how he's reading Suber, who he is following: Suber is in fact giving a slight restructuring of Hartshorne's version of the ontological argument, which is itself an attempt to rework Anselm's argument in Proslogion III. It's a worthwhile version of the argument to look at, since Hartshorne's work is one of the causes for re-awakened interest in the ontological argument and for the realization that the Kantian criticism makes assumptions about ontological arguments that do not fit all ontological arguments. And Hartshorne's version can be considered broadly Anselmian in inspiration (hence Suber's mentions of Anselm in the course of laying out the argument, which should, however, be more qualified than they are). But the fit between Hartshorne and Anselm is pretty loose; as Hartshorne himself would put it, it's at least the difference between a 'classical' and a 'neoclassical' view. We are, by the time we get to Sean's post, at several removes from anything purely Anselmian. And, indeed, the argument no longer has anything more than very broad analogies to Anselm's original; the terminology and course of the argument has become (broadly) Cartesian rather than Anselmian, but without any of the Cartesian background that makes Cartesian arguments non-arbitrary.

Likewise, Sean asks, "What exactly is this 'perfection' whose existence and necessity we are debating?" but never seems to consider that when faced with such a question the best thing to do might be to go to the evidence and see what, exactly, this 'perfection' is that is being debated. That he actually took the trouble to rely on Suber is a step up from most of the discussion; but while he comes closest, he still seems not fully to understand the idea that serious examination of arguments requires looking at evidence -- the evidence about what is motivating their use, the evidence about what their logical structure is, and the evidence about what undergirds their premises and assumptions.

But the further sign of trouble is that none of the criticisms bear much similarity to respectable criticisms of ontological arguments. Sean's, for instance, which, again, at least makes an effort, begins with perplexity about what 'perfection' might be, makes up some things about what it might be (again without any evidence that any of it is relevant in the context of this particular version of the argument, and the fact that he ultimately reduces it to 'good-sounding quality' is pretty much evidence in itself that he doesn't have any evidence that he just doesn't happen to mention), and dismisses it all with a vague amateur psychological diagnosis. It is, to be fair, an intelligent attempt to appeal to ignorance, simply make up some possible interpretations of the terms used, and explain the appeal of the argument without any appeal to evidence, but that will only get one so far. For a first impression, fine; for conclusive dismissal, not so much.

There are serious problems with taking ontological arguments as proofs; they mostly vary quite a bit among the different varieties and subvarieties because we call 'ontological arguments' arguments using very different concepts, assumptions, and logical principles, on the basis of a broad sense of similarity.* But they do exist. What strikes me, though, is how confident these atheists are in their dismissal, which they back up by very weak-tea kinds of refutations (unrigorous, uninformed, and largely floating free of actual evidence). Reasonable people can be misled by ontological arguments; from the fact that they are misled, however, it doesn't follow that those who are not misled are particularly reasonable. Jerry Coyne tries to analyze and evaluate the argument with a cartoon, for goodness' sake, and while this may be a weak joke, it's clear that not all the commenters treat it as such; it's like watching kindergartners try to explain the issues with Hilbert's second problem. But such is what one gets when one rejects arguments wholly because one thinks they have to go wrong somewhere and not because of any clear understanding.

*Cosmological arguments and design arguments, especially the latter, despite considerable variation all share several broad positive features with each other; ontological arguments are all a priori arguments for existence in some way, but that seems the only common factor. Part of this is seen in the fact that none of the characterizations standardly given of ontological arguments fit all the varieties of them. Suber, just to give an example, says "The gist of the argument is to prove that God exists from the mere possibility, or mere idea, of God's existence. It asserts that God's essence implies God's existence." But none of these three starting points, possibility, idea, and essence, are the same thing, and their actual relations to each other are highly controversial topics. So all Suber has really done is give a disjunctive characterization of the group -- ontological arguments start with possibility or idea or essence. And this is not uncommon. The problem here, of course, is that the label for the group comes through Kant, but Kant only had close knowledge of one subvariety of the large group of arguments that are now called 'ontological arguments', Wolffian standardizations of the Leibnizian modification of the Cartesian version, with perhaps some knowledge of a few other closely related variations. Since then other arguments have been placed under the label due to some resemblance or other to this or that variety of the argument, with the result that it no longer labels a coherent group. (Something similar has been happening with 'cosmological arguments' and 'teleological arguments' and 'moral arguments', as well, but not so swiftly. Of the three, the 'cosmological argument' label seems to me to have reached the point where one must get very general indeed to characterize the whole family, while 'moral argument' has stayed, so far, more tightly focused on a small group of arguments, and 'teleological or design argument' seems to me to be in an intermediary stage between the two. If this is in fact so, it raises the interesting history-of-philosophy question of why the labels have deteriorated at different rates. Some initial guesses, again, if we really do have this differential deterioation: part of this may just be due to what philosophers have taken the most interest in, and part may be due to the degree to which discussion of the argument has detached itself from historical anchors in order to treat arguments as freestanding. The latter would encourage the swift multiplication of variations without constraint to a particular form or type.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On the Primary Philosophical Problem for Right-to-Know Qualifications on Lying

Besides the position that one may do evil that good may come, the only real alternative that was put forward as an alternative to the broadly Augustinian position (that no telling of falsehood with an intention to deceive is good) was the broadly Grotian position (that no telling of falsehood with an intention to deceive someone who has a right to know is good). Except for Janet Smith's essay there was pretty much no effort whatsoever to defend this position directly; it was always assumed that if the Augustinian position failed that the Grotian position would automatically be shown to be true. This is false, but even supposing it were true, it was clear enough that the Grotian position was favored for delivering the conclusion that people wanted (because it was assumed that it would deliver it), rather than because people had a positive reason for accepting it -- the symptom of this being that people showed no indication whatsoever that they were even aware of the obvious problems raised by adding a right-to-know qualification.

The most obvious of these is the fact that simply adding the right to know qualification leaves the account incomplete -- so incomplete that no conclusions whatsoever can be drawn from it. This is because bringing rights into the mix massively complicates the discussion. We can say nothing about what follows from a right or a lack thereof without knowing three things:

(1) the ground of the right to know in general
(2) the grounds of the right to know being relevant in particular cases
(3) the nature of the obligations for respecting the right to know

If none of these are stated, it isn't even clear that the Grotian position differs from the Augustinian: if you were to think of the right to know as limited but grounded somehow in our rational nature so as to be indefeasible, then your right to know position would simply be a wordy variation of the Augustinian position.

In order to make any sense of the Grotian position, then, we need to know what establishes the right to know in general, what makes it salient to particular cases and not to other cases, and what kind of obligation we have because of it. Different accounts of this are possible, and which account you choose will radically affect everything else in the account. Grotius himself, for instance, grounds it in what he calls 'liberty of judgment', which people by a sort of implicit contract owe to everyone else simply by speaking in the first place. Because of this, everyone's right to know is a right not to have their liberty of judgment harmed by someone who is directly conversing with them. The result is that it is always wrong to tell a falsehood except (1) where the person you are conversing with has consented, or can be reasonably presumed to have consented to your falsehood; (2) where the person whose liberty of judgment would be impaired is a third party (i.e., someone different from whom you are actually talking to); (3) where a right recognized as more cogent by common consent of mankind would be violated by not doing so; (4) where the person in question cannot accept the responsibilities of liberty of judgment. This fourth is one of the more disturbing features of Grotius' account: on his account it is always and everywhere permissible to deceive children and the mentally ill, simply because they are children or mentally ill. In any case, there are a number of vaguenesses in this account that aren't necessary for Grotius's project of grounding international law and are therefore never cleared up. (The nature of liberty of judgment, for instance, and how exactly it is supposed to be harmed by falsehood.) This is true, in fact, of pretty much every right-to-know account of lying that I have ever seen: the earliest history of it consists entirely of Protestant jurists trying to establish the grounds for certain recognized obligations of international law, and because of that they never discuss it farther than is necessary for that purpose. But that leaves the account inadequately developed for application to individual life. Later Protestant moralists trained in this strand of jurisprudence take it up, but never (as far as I have found) in such a way as to fill in the gaps -- mostly they simply discuss it for a paragraph or two in passing, or develop it enough to handle this or that particular case and then pass on. And Catholic moralists since then who have picked it up, it seems to me, have taken it up with far less critical thinking than their Protestant predecessors, who at least put some real thought into the subject. You will search in vain for a serious account of this right among Catholics putting this position forward, despite the fact that it is the linchpin of the whole position, and despite the fact that no one can even tell what the position actually is until we know the grounds, conditions of relevance, and obligations that are associated with it. And again, differences on these points make a very big difference; it seems clear enough from comments made that at least many people wouldn't accept Grotius's own account, which just leaves their 'right to know' completely orphaned and ungrounded unless something robust replaces it.

This is a remediable problem, but it is also a problem that impedes any actual progress on the question until it is fixed: if no one can even say what your position is, it's already a non-starter. There are other, more general reasons to worry about right-to-know qualifications in lying, or at least of certain kinds of right-to-know qualifications, since some force sharp divisions between the nature of the lie and the intention, and others essentially make it almost impossible to lie, and others make it virtually impossible to know whether anyone is really lying, and yet others, like Grotius's, make it permissible to deceive people with false statements simply because of the type of person they are. But whether any of these are cogent or not in a particular case depends entirely on the nature and source of the right in question, and the nature of the obligations that have to be met in order to show a proper respect for the right.

Welcome, Dear Feast of Lent

by George Herbert

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to your Mother, what you would allow
To every Corporation.

* * *

It 's true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he.
In both let 's do our best.

Who goes in the way which Christ has gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
Who travels the by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Quadragesimal Life

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent (today, if you count Ash Wednesday -- some do and some don't), and Lent makes me think of Minims.

The Minims were a religious order founded by St. Francisco de Paola in the fifteenth century. Francis of Paola, who lived in what was then the Kingdom of Naples, was educated by Franciscans (Francis was himself named after Francis of Assisi). In later life he joined with some friends to start a small religious society, the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi. Because a big part of their discipline was devoted to cultivating humility, they eventually became known as the Order of the Minimi, which means: the Order of the Least. (Part of the reason seems to have been that Pope Alexander VI, who formally approved the order, wanted to avoid any confusion with the Franciscans.) The Minims flourished, and began to spread outside of Italy, and especially in France. The Pope once, at the request of the King of France, ordered the saint to attend the court of the French king Louis XI on his death bed. He was never able to escape the French court, because neither Louis XII nor Charles VIII ever gave him permission to leave, no matter how much he asked. So the Italian died in Plessis, France, in 1507, at the age of 91.

One of the most distinctive features of the Minims was that their rule included a vow to live the vita quadragesimalis. Quadragesima is the Latin name for Lent. The Minims, in other words, always practiced Lenten fast and abstinence, day in, day out, all year round. They were in other words what we would call vegans: no meat (and fish wasn't allowed to substitute), no butter, no cheese, no milk, no eggs. Hence the link with Lent. (I think they often had restrictions on wine, although not so as to keep them from the sacrament. But if you've ever had Paulaner beer, that's a widely known brewery that was originally founded by Minims, although now nothing remains of the connection beyond the name, which it gets from St. Francis of Paola.)

While the Minims did pretty well for a while, they tended to form small communities, and so at their height seem to have had about 7000 members scattered over a number of countries. Because so much of the order was located in France, they were, like many religious orders in France, largely shredded by the French Revolution. There are still Minims, though, mostly in Italy.

Because the Minims didn't last as a robust order for very long, and have spent at least half their history as nothing more than a few scattered communities, they haven't had a chance to contribute as much as some religious orders have over the course of the same period. But they did have some notable names in their heyday, in part because while they were required to live a fairly austere life, they were encouraged to follow their own pursuits as long as it didn't conflict with their vows. The most famous Minim after Francis himself was Marin Mersenne, who corresponded with most of the great minds of the seventeenth century, became (after some initial doubt) one of Galileo's strongest supporters, and did important scientific work himself in acoustics and mathematics (although the latter more incidentally as part of other projects); he was the guy people like Descartes wrote to when they wanted to spread their ideas around. Extraordinarily important figure for early modern philosophy and science, but unfortunately easy to overlook because much of his work was either behind the scenes or is scattered throughout his correspondence.

One Lowly Cell in Sight of Grace

Ash Wednesday
by John Keble

"Yes--deep within and deeper yet
The rankling shaft of conscience hide,
Quick let the swelling eye forget
The tears that in the heart abide.
Calm be the voice, the aspect bold,
No shuddering pass o'er lip or brow,
For why should Innocence be told
The pangs that guilty spirits bow?

"The loving eye that watches thine
Close as the air that wraps thee round -
Why in thy sorrow should it pine,
Since never of thy sin it found?
And wherefore should the heathen see
What chains of darkness thee enslave,
And mocking say, 'Lo, this is he
Who owned a God that could not save'?"

Thus oft the mourner's wayward heart
Tempts him to hide his grief and die,
Too feeble for Confession's smart,
Too proud to bear a pitying eye;
How sweet, in that dark hour, to fall
On bosoms waiting to receive
Our sighs, and gently whisper all!
They love us--will not God forgive?

Else let us keep our fast within,
Till Heaven and we are quite alone,
Then let the grief, the shame, the sin,
Before the mercy-seat be thrown.
Between the porch and altar weep,
Unworthy of the holiest place,
Yet hoping near the shrine to keep
One lowly cell in sight of grace.

Nor fear lest sympathy should fail -
Hast thou not seen, in night hours drear,
When racking thoughts the heart assail,
The glimmering stars by turns appear,
And from the eternal house above
With silent news of mercy steal?
So Angels pause on tasks of love,
To look where sorrowing sinners kneel.

Or if no Angel pass that way,
He who in secret sees, perchance
May bid His own heart-warming ray
Toward thee stream with kindlier glance,
As when upon His drooping head
His Father's light was poured from Heaven,
What time, unsheltered and unfed,
Far in the wild His steps were driven.

High thoughts were with Him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth -
And who can stay the soaring power
Of spirits weaned from worldly mirth,
While far beyond the sound of praise
With upward eye they float serene,
And learn to bear their Saviour's blaze
When Judgment shall undraw the screen?

Give More Lest They Condemn Me

Ash Wednesday
by Christina Rossetti

Jesus, do I love Thee?
Thou art far above me,
Seated out of sight
Hid in Heavenly Light
Of most highest height.
Martyred hosts implore Thee,
Seraphs fall before Thee,
Angels and Archangels,
Cherub throngs adore Thee;
Blessed She that bore Thee!
All the Saints approve Thee,
All the Virgins love Thee.
I show as a blot
Blood hath cleansed not,
As a barren spot
In Thy fruitful lot.
I, fig-tree fruit-unbearing;
Thou, righteous Judge unsparing:
What canst Thou do more to me
That shall not more undo me?
Thy Justice hath a sound—
Why cumbereth it the ground?
Thy Love with stirrings stronger
Pleads—Give it one year longer.
Thou giv'st me time: but who
Save Thou shall give me dew;
Shall feed my root with Blood,
And stir my sap for good?
Oh, by Thy Gifts that shame me,
Give more lest they condemn me:
Good Lord, I ask much of Thee,
But most I ask to love Thee;
Kind Lord, be mindful of me,
Love me, and make me love Thee.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Right Direction

Leonard Nimoy, who played the most famous TV scientist of all time, Mr. Spock, came from an arts and theater background and in real life is nothing like his character. Yet he told me that because Mr. Spock and “Star Trek” have inspired so many young viewers to become scientists, researchers who meet him are always desperate to give him lab tours and explain the projects they’re pursuing in peer-to-peer terms. Mr. Nimoy nods sagely and intones to each one, “Well, it certainly looks like you’re headed in the right direction.”

From here.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Official U.S. Language

This blog is not spending enough time on political controversy. So here's something to remedy the matter.

Incomprehensible Shouting Named Official U.S. Language

Hmmm. I can understand the reasoning, even if not the shouting, of the Incomprehensible Shouting party, but I think I agree with the President that Dulcet Tones is the way to go.


Jennifer Fitz asked me a while back if I would give my thoughts on what 'intention' typically means in Catholic moral theology. What I say here will be very crude and rough, but it's probably worth saying something about, because there are two distinct (albeit related) ways in which 'intention' is used in Catholic moral theology, and both of them are somewhat different than our colloquial use of the term.

It helps to go back to the beginning. Intention is, in its origin, an archery term; the word 'tension' goes back to the same root, tendere, which means to stretch, and thus intendere has the implication of stretching the bow so as to direct the arrow somewhere. Because of this the word became a metaphor for attention (also from the same root, and suggesting the idea of stretching your mind toward something); when people told the legend of St. John the Evangelist and the bow, it was more than just a loose metaphor to make a moral point. It was a very clever bit of play on words: the words used to talk about archery and to talk about attention were often the same words. Intention also conveyed, more generally, the notion of aiming at something (which is why you stretch the bow, of course).

Because of this, in medieval philosophy and theology, intentio indicates some kind of aiming. On a broadly Aristotelian view, every example of cause and effect consists of the cause having an intentio for its effect: intentio in this sense is a disposition or orientation to an end, and is the prerequisite for anything acting in this way rather than that or for having this effect rather than that. This is what is going on in the most famous example of a philosophical argument building on the notion of intentio, Aquinas's Fifth Way:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of things. We see that things lacking in cognition, such as natural bodies, operate according to an end, which is clear from their acting always or frequently in the same way so as to result in what is best. Thus it is obvious that they attain to the end not by chance [a casu] but by disposition [ex intentione]. But whatever does not have cognition does not tend to the end unless directed by something cognizant and intelligent, as the arrow by the archer. Thus there is something intelligent by which all natural things are ordered to the end, and this we call God.

In the Fifth Way, intentio doesn't imply that the thing that has it is intelligent, although, of course, the argument holds that there is a connection between intentio and intelligence. But what about human beings? We, too, act and have effects, and since we aren't eternally active, we too have to be given an intention to an end. In our case, we are ordered to universal good, and ultimately that means God. But there are many ways to universal good, so unlike natural things, our will does not have an intention that forces it to follow one and only one path. You might saw that we are arrows that can constantly re-think our way to our target. This is what having free will is. But note that while our choices are our own contribution to our flight to the target, we still do have a target, and all our choices are part of our intention to that end -- they are subordinate parts, and distinguishable from the intention itself, which they presuppose, but they are still part of our intention, in much the way that taking the Interstate rather than the state highway might be distinguishable from but still part of your journey to San Antonio. This is the older, and Thomistic sense (of course, Aquinas is not the only one who uses it, but it is in great measure to Aquinas that the term is still occasionally used this way); it is not so common as it once was, but one still often finds people using it. In this sense, intention includes everything that is essential to your acting the way you do. Analyzing this at a deeper level was one of Aquinas's great achievements: the Treatise on Human Acts is some of the most brilliant work of a man known for brilliant work, and once you start getting an idea of how it all fits together it can be seen to be a stunningly beautiful bit of philosophical work.

However, we can approach things somewhat differently, and Aquinas provides a good jumping-off point for talking about this, too. In talking about goodness and evil with regard to human acts, he notes that there are four different ways you can look at the same action:

Accordingly a fourfold goodness may be considered in a human action. First, that which, as an action, it derives from its genus; because as much as it has of action and being so much has it of goodness, as stated above (Article 1). Secondly, it has goodness according to its species; which is derived from its suitable object. Thirdly, it has goodness from its circumstances, in respect, as it were, of its accidents. Fourthly, it has goodness from its end, to which it is compared as to the cause of its goodness.

So this is an analysis of the action itself. Every action is a kind of action, and thus can be analyzed in terms of genus and species. And the genus, of course, is human action generally (which, of course, presupposed our intention to universal good). The species is determined by what Aquinas calls the 'object'; the object gives form to the action -- it is what makes the action what it is, or is what the action is about. For instance, the object of one's act might be something like to protect my property or to steal John's sheep. As we might put it, the object is what you're trying to do or trying to accomplish.

However, this thing that you're trying to accomplish could be done for many different reasons. For instance, I could be stealing John's sheep because I want to add it to my flock, or to sell it for money, or because I want to hurt John. These have to do with the effects I want to bring about by stealing John's sheep; it's these reasons that lead me to steal John's sheep at all, and this is what Aquinas calls the ends of the action (an action can have many ends, because there can be many reasons for it). It is important to keep in mind that in this context we are talking about the ends of the action itself. There are always other ends involved besides the ends of the action itself; for instance, the only reason the action is possible at all is that the will has an end, universal good, in everything it does. This end is presupposed by the action, but when we talk about the ends of the action, we mean those ends that determine why this particular thing was done rather than anything else. Further, the object of the action is itself a kind of end (which is why we can aim ourselves toward it, e.g., why I can deliberately steal John's sheep), it's just not the end of the action itself (stealing John's sheep is not the reason for stealing John's sheep).

In much modern theology, this scheme is what people primarily use. Since moral theology is always talking about human acts (or things closely related to it), it can take the genus of the action for granted. The determination of the specific kind of action by the object plays a big role in discussion. And when people talk about the ends of the action, it has become common to talk about the intention. It's important to keep in mind that this is the intention of the action itself to its ends, and thus intention in this sense always deals with things other than the action itself. My action is an act of stealing because of its object (taking John's sheep without permission) but I do this because I want to get certain effects out of it (pleasure, money, nice sheep), and intention in this sense deals only with those effects. This sense of the term, if we want a crude and rough comparison to the previous sense of the term, breaks up the previous sense of 'intention' into two parts: the choosing of the object and the intending of the end. (This can be important in discussions of double effect, because the principle can be formulated, and often has been formulated, using either way, and people sometimes shift senses in the middle of their discussion.)

It is this second sense of intention that is found in CCC 1750:

The morality of human acts depends on:

- the object chosen;

- the end in view or the intention;

- the circumstances of the action.

The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the "sources," or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.

In part because of the Catechism, in part because of other documents (like Veritatis Splendor), this is the dominant way of using the term in Catholic moral theology today, although due to the importance of Aquinas, the other way can also be found.

Both of these senses differ somewhat from our ordinary English word 'intention' or 'intent', by which we I think we usually mean less than the first sense and more than the second. Also, I think the conversational sense allows for more self-deception to enter into what we are calling intention than the theological terms: in the theological senses it doesn't matter what you call your action or how you justify it, what matters is what you actually are doing. I can pretend to myself all I please that I am just engaging in economic redistribution; what matters is what I am actually deliberately doing, in this case taking John's sheep without proper permission (which is my object whether I choose to use these particular words to describe it or not) out of malice, or greed, or what have you (which establish my ends as bad even if I use pretty words to justify them to myself). That is, the theological terms are objectivist: they presuppose that you are actually doing something intelligible that can be described in objective terms, and that this is independent of what you might want to pretend you are doing (what ultimately matters is not how you would describe it, although if you are sincere that can influence our evaluation of guilt and innocence a little bit, but how a genuinely virtuous person would describe it); but the conversational use of the term seems to be subjectivist: it's as much about how the action strikes you as about what it is, as much about what you want to believe it is as what a good judge (the virtuous person) would believe it to be.

There are probably other senses floating around, but these three are the ones that come up most in Catholic discussions of ethics, and that most need to be kept distinct in such discussions.

The Best of Guardians

Wouldn't such a person despise money when he's young but love it more and more as he grows older, because he shares in the money-loving nature and isn't pure in his attitude to virtue? And isn't that because he lacks the best of guardians?

What guardian is that? Adeimantus said.

Reason, I said, mixed with music and poetry, for it alone dwells within the person who possesses it as the lifelong preserver of his virtue.

Plato, Republic 549a-549b (Grube-Reeves, tr.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sarah Renou Bleg

Does anybody know anything about the nineteenth-century author Sarah Renou, or know of good resources for researching her? She shows up in my attempts to trace the (real but fairly subtle) influences of Lady Mary Shepherd on the thought of the day (Renou cites her, in fact, in this work), but I am having a hard time finding much on her that's useful (although most of her books and an old review or two of her works are available online). Nothing I can find even gives exact dates for her, or, indeed, much beyond a list of her books.

The Multiplied, the Ever Unparted, Whole

A General Communion
by Alice Meynell

I saw the throng, so deeply separate,
Fed at one only board—
The devout people, moved, intent, elate,
And the devoted Lord.

O struck apart! not side from human side,
But soul from human soul,
As each asunder absorbed the multiplied,
The ever unparted, whole.

I saw this people as a field of flowers,
Each grown at such a price
The sum of unimaginable powers
Did no more than suffice.

A thousand single central daisies they,
A thousand of the one;
For each, the entire monopoly of day;
For each, the whole of the devoted sun.