Saturday, April 27, 2013

Roger H. C. Donlon and Warren Rogers, Outpost of Freedom


Opening Passage:

The President of the United States put the MEdal fo Honor around my neck, snapped the pale-blue ribbon into place, smiled, shook my hand, and said, "Congratulations, Captain." I stood there, eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare. My new gree n uniform felt as if it didn't fit. My feet felt out of line and I eased my heels together. My hands were all right, and I must have had the right arch in my back because the sweat came down and hit me in the waist where it's supposed to. I noticed that the President was sweating, too.

Summary: Roger Donlon was a Catholic boy from New York state, a bit overly fond of practical jokes and horseplay, who went on to lead a Special Forces Detachment in Vietnam. He and his team were military advisers, so in practice most of their work consisted of 'civic action', helping the locals out with anything that needed to be done, especially medical. Nam Dong, however, was located with reach of the Viet Cong, so there was an ever-present danger of attack. One of the difficulties of the situation was that Nam Dong was already a place filled with tensions; in addition to the local South Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese units stationed there, there were refugees from mountain villages who had been pushed out by the VC. In addition, there turned out to be a certain amount of tension between the South Vietnamese and the Nung mercenaries with whom Donlon and his team directly worked. This came to a head when a fight broke out between the Nungs and the South Vietnamese over a local woman. An ordinary enough occurrence, but it quickly grew out of hand, leading to extensive violence that Donlon had difficulty quelling. There were signs that this spiral out of control was due to Viet Cong infiltration. And in this state of tension the Viet Cong did, in fact, attack one night.

The book does a very good job at conveying the confusion of the battlefield -- soldiers stumbling out of bed trying to figure out what is going on, difficulty in determining where the enemy are, mistakenly hearing "Can't see!" when people were shouting "VC!", and so forth. Some of the examples I thought most interesting were the difficulties of dealing with equipment failure: the time wasted trying to use a gun that turned out to have a bent barrel, using timed illumination rounds without immediately remembering that the timer needed to be set with a timing wrench, having to improvise a way to fix weapons jams when none of the safety procedures could be followed, the constant need to fumble around for the next weapon to use, and so forth. There are other, more human sides, though: having to deal with someone's death in the midst of fighting for your own life, the difficulty of avoiding friendly fire when you are literally surrounded and the enemy is encroaching, the effort to push yourself when you are dog-tired and in pain. Then there are the small touches where humanity intrudes: the Vietnamese nurse who instead of hunkering down or running grabbed a rifle and started shooting at the Viet Cong, the fact that in the middle of battle Donlon gets hit in the face (fortunately for him, he was just far enough back not to have his skull broken) by the recoil of a gun because he is thinking about where he might be able to get different shoes so he can get to where he needs to be, the aching irony that the only men on Donlon's team who died were those who had wives back home who were pregnant.

For all this, the book, while not long, moves quite slowly. We don't get full background on everyone, only little touches, but a great deal of the space is devoted to showing the reader enough to remember that the people on the field aren't machines, but ordinary people with lives going well beyond their military service.

Favorite Passage: After an injury, the young Donlon files the paperwork according to a traditional military protocol:

The day I was discharged from teh hospital they gave me a "physical profile" classifying me as a "permanent three." This meant that the ankle was permanently flawed and I would have to have limited duty for the rest of my career. I argued with the personnel sergeant that I was perfectly all right for full duty. I requested assignment to a regular platoon, pending transfer to advanced infantry training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and action on the request I had submitted for officer training. He finally agreed to send me to the platoon, but he insisted the limited-duty profile had to go into my records.

"All right," I said. "I'll take it over there myself."

He gave me a fishy look. After a moment's hesitation he handed over the piece of paper.

It was a windy day, as I recall. Somehow, on the way to company headquarters where my records were, the paper slipped out of my hand. I don't know where it went. At headquarters nobody asked about it, and I never mentioned it. As far as I know, nothing about limited duty was ever put in my records. (p. 69)

Whatever its differences, military is a government occupation; and the two primary purposes of government paperwork are to get lost before it is filed and to get lost after it is filed.

Recommendation: It's pretty much what you'd expect from an autobiographical "as told to" book, but the description of the battle of Nam Dong is vivid and gripping, and worth reading if you want a sense of how things work in the midst of battle -- or don't work, which is perhaps even more often the case.

She Learned Her Hands in a Fairy-Tale

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.

Dashed Off

Just notes and jottings. All standard caveats apply.

comparative mereology of dimensional constructions

geometry + method of dividing or cutting = arithmetic

liberal arts as based on postulates

The common notions of Euclid are requried for diagrams to generalize

the unity of the Church in baptism, the truth of the Church in confirmation, the goodness of the Church in eucharist

Truth is an endless frontier.

In the sense that 'nature doesn't care about morality', it doesn't care about survival or health, either.

For custom to function as law it must be entrenched and recognizable; this is its way of being promulgated, etc.

beauty as a wholeness of harmonic brilliance

novels as depicting plausibilities and expanding moral vocabularies

To participate eternity is to be related to time in some way as cause to effect; and this we are insofar as we are an originating cause of change.

-signify disposition to sanctify (sacramentals)
-signify perfection of sanctity (proper)
---figurative signification of Christ's passion itself as prophetically expected (Old Covenant, promised)
---signification of Christ Himself in His Passion (new covenant, given)

plausibility as the standard for exploration of concepts

the manifestation of an integral harmonic

It seems especially appropriate to animals to make use of customary signs.

the Church as communion (one), as sanctification (holy), as magisterium (true), as oecumene (catholic), as apostolate (apostolic)

the paradox of ethics (Joad): virtue must be natural and must be acquired

hieratic language as a source of poetic diction

Infused virtue originates beyond us, but does not act without our consent.

Angels do not deduce, but they understand deductive structures. (cf. Aquinas ST 1.58.3ad2)

mobile being in general
--as known in body
particular kind of mobile being
--by locomotion
--by motion toward form
----first mobiles (elements)
------in general
------in specific changes
--mixed and inanimate

The need for reasoning to be plausible is connected with the ineliminability of causal reasoning.

the connection between martyrdom and fraternity

mathematics as experiment for logic

the sacraments as theological notations
sacraments as indices, icons, and symbols

the longitude of final causation (Peirce): completeness admits of degrees

"The nonrecognition of final causation has been and still is productive of more philosophical error and nonsense than any or every other source of error or nonsense." C. S. Peirce (MS 478)

speculative grammar as physiology of signs
speculative rhetoric as study of the effectiveness of signs

indices as virtual precepts

index : that :: icon : what :: symbol : how

(1) Beliefs may be had of which we are not aware.
(2) Belief does not always appease the irritation of doubt.
(3) Belief does not always involve the establishment of a habit or rule of action.

Interpretation is not merely another word for translation.

Some of Peirce's odder semiotic claims make sense if one sees Peirce as conflating intelligibility and signification. Think about this.

A burning bush indicates extraordinary activity: a bush that burns but is not consumed indicates extraordinary activity that endures extraordinarily, the perpetually active.

Chinese philosophy as exploring human nature by analogies with the world

Love of the poor is godlike, for we are all of us the poor God loves.

the gradation of holy orders as an emblem of development of doctrine

To think about: Hume's account of causation cannot actually make sense of proportioning effect to cause.

Noachide Laws
--regard for God
----against idolatry
----against blasphemy
--regard for life
-----against murder
-----against living blood
--regard for family
-----against sexual immorality
--regard for property
-----against theft
--regard for social order
-----for courts of justice
the primary institutions of civil order: citizen, family, economic system, justice system, religious system

letting the universe unspool inside one's head

the use of euphemisms as a symptom of the politically shameful

Moses spoke to God face to face but did not see God face to face.

Kant's moral argument: religion is not needed to be moral, but religion of the right kind is the most humanly practical way to have a life that includes everything being moral requires

nominalism as the semantic aphasia of metaphysical reasoning

Desire, like death, always has more room.

Pr 18:7 & Socratic maieutic

consensus gentium & the human race as a community of inquirers

patience : end :: pride : beginning

syncretism as a response to spiritual winter

the paradox of mathematics as sense desensualized

Gothic as the Doric of Christianity

The hoarding of insight is a sign of the lack of it.

Rationalization is the basic mechanism of international law.

Probabilities are the mathematician's versions of metaphors.

pragmatic, mercantile, scientific, artistic, religious, and civic tones of philosophy

--(1) representamen
------(a) material
------(b) formal
--(2) signified
--(3) interpretant
------(a) Spiritual
------(b) ecclesial
------(c) confessional

viability : validity :: practical : speculative

synderesis as interpretant (Chua)

Daoism as anti-consequentialist

A sacrament must be sensible, communicative, and suggestive.

'laboratories of experimental language'

No one comes to baptism by choice alone. (Jn 6:44; I Cor 12:13; II Orange can viii)

the crudeness of Scripture a sign of the Incarnation

The lack of natural law aesthetics is one of the severe historical weaknesses of discussions of natural law. It is understandable -- art, being casuistic by nature, depends most crucially on prudential & technical judgment. But these cannot be governed or ordered properly without presupposing precepts of natural reason.

doing justice as the key element of rationality

Wis 2:12, 17-20 & the Passion
Jas 4:1-3 & pleonexia

By faith we profess; by sacrament we receive what we profess.

Because charity is the foundation of the precepts of the Law, eternal life is the consequence of keeping them.

The artisan is the mime of the cosmos qua cosmos.

Socrates ends the Gorgias with a myth because Callicles and the other rhetors lack the right imagination to follow the argument.

per impossibile reasoning as limit reasoning (ultimate form of counterfactual inference)

Probabilities do not explain causes; causes explain probabilities by specifying relevant general possibilities, the probabilities being the proportion of specific possibilities to these general possibilities.

Some moral claims are more easily asserted with a truth-apt attitude than others.

Someone of moderate intelligence with a well-founded distinction will often avoid errors into which more intelligent people may still fall.

We only recognize that there are composite things by discovering that things change; observing changing things we discover that there are composite things.

A serious account of belief change requires looking not merely at support and possible inferential pathways but also at saliences.

Cause is that which links change and invariance.

natural classification as a limit concept

the intrinsically causal character of evidential reasoning -- we recognize something as evidential by putting it in a causal framework

It only makes sense to talk about reducing (say) biology to physics if biology and physics are concerned with finding the same general kind of thing.

Experimental reasoning is a form of reasoning involving examples and counterexamples.

History is founded on love of story and on love of that of which one tells the tale.

Virtue is the prize of virtue.

election systems as ways of mapping votes to votes in a constrained way (unfiltered votes to filtered, personal to electoral, votes for a representative to representative as voting record)

Kabbalah is nothing other than teh internal logic of Hebrew as a hieratic language.

Liturgical reasoning, like legal reasoning, involves using precedent in order to handle new situations. (The similarity, I think, runs more deeply than just structural.)

authority/law and the Fourth Way (indirect way of looking at good as a transcendental)

Double effect concerns material cooperation.

Friday, April 26, 2013

First to Welcome, Foremost to Defend

Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog
by George Gordon, Lord Byron

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown to glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rest below:
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been:
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship is all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on - it honors none you wish to mourn:
To mark a friend's remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one, - and here he lies.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


* I saw the recent film version of Les Miserables this weekend. I think it highlights a problem with Hollywood musicals these days: the noncommutative character of acting and singing. That is to say, acting-with-singing is not the same as singing-with-acting. The two can never be co-equal, because they will have ongoing competing demands, and one has to be subordinated to the other; this subordination has to be reasonably consistent, or the character stops seeming coherent. In musicals this ends up being a serious problem: musicals are based on singing-with-acting, but Hollywood musicals are packed with people who are acting-with-singing. This can still get good results. Both Jackman and Hathaway have some powerful moments. But they are always and everywhere actors who are singing; the rhythm, mood, and overall performance are determined by, and subordinated to, the requirements of playing the character. With some talent and experience integrating song into acting, as Hathaway and Jackman certainly have, this can get us something reasonably impressive. But the one character who really makes the film is Éponine, played by Samantha Barks, and this is because Barks is the only person in the film who is singing-with-acting: she sings with the rhythm, mood, and overall performance that is appropriate to the song, and adjusts the acting accordingly. (Unsurprisingly, it turns out that her primary background is singing rather than acting.) Barks was nominated for a lot of awards for her part, and rightly so: it was exactly what a film musical requires. Had there been a greater proportion of people singing-with-acting, like Barks, and fewer people acting with song thrown in, this would have been a stronger movie.

But it is worth seeing. I found some of the more negative reviews rather hilariously funny, with their slinging of insults like 'bombastic', 'over-the-top selling of emotion', and the like. Filtered through stageplay and screenplay though it may be, this is Victor Hugo we're talking about, that literary great than which no more melodramatic can be conceived, the quintessence of melodrama sentiment and bombastic caricature turned into enduring story. It's precisely this sort of reviewing that leads people to dismiss movie reviewers as not knowing what they are talking about.

* Speaking of Hugo-esque movies, I intended to say something a while back about Atlas Shrugged Part II. Samantha Mathis was excellent; she does the exhausted-yet-resolved thing very well. In general, having the more experienced cast made the acting less bland than in the first part, and the pacing problems in the story are less pronounced. It does suffer very seriously from middle-movie syndrome: all transition and no resolution. It's also has some difficulty handling an over-strained plot, which is less troublesome in a book than on screen. This leads to inconsistent moods throughout, and on several points they go the wrong direction and make it more melodramatic than Rand does, which is impressive.

One thing they did right, and I'm not sure that it was deliberate, is actually drawing out the fact that Atlas Shrugged is science fiction: it's near-future dystopian science fiction in which the major plot devices are technological advances -- indeed, the book itself is heavily structured by the three inventions of Rearden Metal, the Galt generator, and the scientific/engineering enclave of Galt's Gulch, cloaked by its field. The movie has to turn 'near-future' into 'retro-future', but it brings out the science-fiction component well. This is emphasized by the casting, which has a number of actors who would be best known to science fiction fans (Picardo, Morales), and by the thematic focus on the generator. Playing the thing out as a science fiction movie is exactly the right way to go, and would have greatly improved Part I.

There are in-jokes that are too obvious to be coincidental; e.g., the fact that the security guard is Teller from Penn & Teller, and the fact that the Head of State is played by Ray Wise, another well-known SF actor, one of whose most most widely known recent parts was playing the somewhat goofy President Dugan in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2.

Victor Hugo was one of Rand's favorite authors, and the style of the novel owes a great deal to Hugo and Rand's understanding of how his works succeed -- right down to John Galt's extended speech, which has parallels in Hugo's infamous not-quite-digressions. From which it follows that what we really need is an Atlas Shrugged film musical.

* Anyone who has ever lived in Central Texas knows that the three weather seasons here are Hot, Temperate, and Lunatic. We are currently in the Lunatic season, bouncing back and forth between, on the one hand, days with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s, and, on the other hand, days with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. This weather is extremely enervating, so things will probably slow down around here a bit.


* A new superhero:

A Samurai sword-wielding Mormon bishop helped a neighbor woman escape a Tuesday morning attack by a man who had been stalking her.

Kent Hendrix woke up Tuesday to his teenage son pounding on his bedroom door and telling him somebody was being mugged in front of their house. The 47-year-old father of six rushed out the door and grabbed the weapon closest to him -- a 29-inch high carbon steel Samurai sword.

It turns out he's also a pharmaceutical statistician, so he has the perfect cover identity. It's a better idea than a lot of superhero ideas.

Moral Dumbfounding and Moral Stupefaction

An excellent paper by Daniel Jacobson (ht):

Several prominent moral psychologists and philosophers have recently made much of a phenomenon they term moral dumbfounding, defined as “the stubborn and puzzled maintenance of a moral judgment without supporting reasons” (Haidt et al. 2000: 1). This phenomenon, most thoroughly discussed in Jonathan Haidt’s (2001) influential paper, “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail,” has been utilized in antithetical ways. Haidt and his collaborators hold it to support a descriptive and normative theory, social intuitionism, which is anthropocentric and sentimentalist, and claims to vindicate moral knowledge; whereas Peter Singer (2005) and Joshua Greene (2008) hold that dumbfounding supports a hyper-rationalist consequentialism, which they claim to be the only alternative to moral skepticism. Yet the proponents of dumbfounding agree that the phenomenon shows something important about ordinary moral judgment, even where people are not dumbfounded. Specifically, they claim that it supports their view that reasons and reasoning typically play little or no role in judgment. What passes for moral reasoning is, quite generally, better viewed as post hoc rationalization of decisions made on other, non-rational grounds. Let us call this the pessimistic view of moral reasons and reasoning.

...But I contend that he claim that the dumbfounding study supports this pessimistic conclusion rests on a shaky foundation. Several alternative explanations of the phenomenon would arise were there good reasons for the dumbfounded subjects’ moral judgments, even though they are unable to articulate them under the experimental conditions. I will argue that there are in fact good reasons for critical moral judgments in all of the cases Haidt considers— indeed, obviously good reasons—his claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The fact that these reasons have somehow been overlooked in this literature suggests that the subjects are not dumbfounded by these cases so much as certain (extremely intelligent) psychologists and philosophers are, rather, stupefied by their moral theories. To be morally stupefied in this fashion is to be rendered unable to see obviously good reasons, because you are in the grip of a theory too narrow-minded to accommodate them.....

Remorse Sits in My Place

Conscience And Remorse
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

'Good-bye,' I said to my conscience —
'Good-bye for aye and aye,'
And I put her hands off harshly,
And turned my face away;
And conscience smitten sorely
Returned not from that day.
But a time came when my spirit
Grew weary of its pace;
And I cried: 'Come back, my conscience;
I long to see thy face.'
But conscience cried: 'I cannot;
Remorse sits in my place.'

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Brief Introduction to Natural Law Theory IIIb

Part IIIa

IIIb. Particular Precepts as Ordered According to Goods

The ordering of the precepts according to goods is in many ways the most difficult part of natural law theory to cover in an introduction, in part because there are diverse views about what conclusions can be drawn from it, and in part because it is one of the points at which historically one has found the greatest divergence of views among natural law theorists themselves. Different natural law theorists also tend to want to draw different conclusions from the ordering. In order to give just a basic summary, then, I will have to abstract from a great deal of debate, and rather than give any sort of comprehensive historical discussion, which would be overwhelming regardless of one's background, I will just note a few examples. In order even to do this, however, I will have to take some kind of position on a few key points, and the position I will be taking will be controversial. I think it is both essentially right (although this post will only allow a very simplified form of it) and the simplest position to take, and thus very suitable for an introduction. But it should be noted that there are plenty of people who will disagree with me on some key points in the following. This is unavoidable; and part of being introduced to a general approach is being introduced, even if in only a very limited way, to its areas of controversy.

The most obvious starting point here, as elsewhere, is with the account as we find it in Thomas Aquinas. And we must keep in mind the question he is actually considering: how is it that the natural law can be both one and many? Human goods seem to be quite various, so in what way can natural law even be coherent? We start with the first precept of practical reason as a first principle: good is to be done and pursued and bad avoided. All other precepts presuppose this in some way, and so they all concern good or bad as something to be done or avoided, just as all the principles of theoretical principle presuppose the principle of noncontradiction and so concern true and false and what is consistent with them. But human beings recognize good as that to which we tend or incline in some way, so the other precepts after the first are "ordered" according to the order of the natural inclinations:

Kind of Inclination Kind of Good Example Precepts (if any given)
continuing to be, like every substance means of preserving life, eliminating obstacles to life
"what nature has taught to all animals" sexual intercourse, education of children, etc.
inclination to rational good knowing truth about God, living in society shun ignorance, avoid offending those with whom one lives

It is important in this to recognize what Aquinas does not say. He does not say, for instance, that the precepts are somehow directly deduced from the good in question. He doesn't actually tell us any more about the relation between the goods and their precepts than that the precepts, which concern good, are ordered according to the natural inclinations, which tend to good. This is a very indirect kind of locution, and Aquinas does not expand on it. We can go a little farther, and recognize that when he talks of ordering here he is speaking specifically on the question of how the precepts can be unified and yet diverse. There is some kind of hierarchy here, although it is important, again, to recognize that Aquinas doesn't actually tell us its governing principle. It's easy enough to see that, although all the goods in question are human, as we move from substantiality to animality to rationality we are getting into goods that are more distinctively human.

But I want to emphasize -- yet again -- that what Aquinas gives us here is just a scheme of goods that parallels a scheme of precepts, and he does not actually tell us the relation between the two schemes. All he tells us is that the precepts are ordered in the same way the goods are. This parallel follows as a relatively obvious consequence of the first precept combined with the idea that goods are ordered to other goods, and the scheme itself is derived simply by considering goods from least expansive (but least distinctive) to most expansive (but most distinctive). Both the parallel and the scheme can be read in more than one way; St. Thomas's immediate concern, again, is merely to show the way in which the precepts of natural law can be both unified and yet diverse.

Aquinas's scheme here has been quite common, but it might be worthwhile to compare it to a later variant, that of Suárez:

Kind of Inclination Kind of Good Example Precepts (if any given)
of human beings as individual preservation of being and safeguarding of welfare precepts of temperance and fortitude
of human beings as corruptible or mortal preservation of species precepts of prudence and chastity
of human beings as rational immortality, spiritual perfection, communication with God, living in society precepts of justice, religion, etc.

This gives us a somewhat different flavor. We have the stepping away from animality to focus on mortality. Suarez goes out of his way explicitly to reject the idea that there is a natural law common to human beings and other animals, insisting that only rational animals can be subject to law in the relevant sense. Thus we see that he has adapted Aquinas's scheme to eliminate any suggestion that the natural law is shared in any way with all substances or all animals. Nothing about Aquinas's scheme requires that it be read as saying that rabbits have natural law in the sense that we do, but anyone who has tried to explain natural law to anyone soon realizes that this is exactly the way people are inclined to read it when they first come to it. Suarez is deliberately eliminating this possibility: it is our rational recognition of goods available to us as individual, mortal, and rational that establishes the order. This is partly also due to the fact that Suarez wants to hold that natural law is a matter of rational judgment and reject the view, common at the time, that it is somehow built into our inclinations.

Very different from these is the view that we find in New Natural Law theorists like Grisez and Finnis. There are lots and lots of complications in the dispute between New Natural Law theorists and other kinds of natural law theorists that I will not get into here. But the New Natural Law theorists tend to speak less in terms of natural inclination and more in terms of basic human goods, which are incommensurable, i.e., not reducible to each other. (The word 'incommensurable' often causes confusion wherever it lands; it does not mean 'unable to be compared' but 'having no common measure'). The basic list consists of:

(1) life
(2) knowledge
(3) play
(4) aesthetic experience
(5) sociability or friendship
(6) practical reasonableness
(7) religion

The original idea was that this was supposed to be exhaustive, but Finnis has more recently come to the view that there is at least an eighth good, marriage; he had originally thought that it was a good that reduced to the others, but has come to regard as basic and irreducible in its own right. And there are occasional other variations among different New Natural Law theorists; for instance, skilled work sometimes makes it on the list. It is commonly said that these goods are non-hierarchical, and this is commonly treated as being the same as saying that they are incommensurable. The two are in fact two completely different things, and the confusion of them is quite an egregious error: holding that there is a hierarchical ordering among goods simply does not commit you to holding that they are commensurable, and vice versa. While Finnis seems to take a fairly strong line and often treats them as simply not hierarchical at all, Grisez has tended to be more cautious, only ruling out what he thinks are mistaken kinds of hierarchies, while deliberately at times stepping back from any claim that there is no hierarchy among them. My view is that we should take New Natural Law, as such, as simply leaving the question open whether there is any kind of hierarchical ordering among these goods.

New Natural Law theorists argue (rightly, although they often express this in ways that I think are highly misleading) that the precepts of practical reason cover more than moral obligation. Practical reason is not confined to questions of moral obligation; it also includes weaker moral matters and matters of skill or art. Thus the New Natural Law theorists insist that moral obligation arises only when we are considering what is required for (or inconsistent with) a kind of integrity or wholeness of all these goods in human life. (There is some variation among New Natural Law theorists in how this is characterized.) But what I want to point out is that this issue of integral fulfillment is already built into Aquinas's scheme: there it just is the ordering of goods to each other. Now, exactly how we should read this integral wholeness of good (and thus of natural law) is another question; as I noted above, he doesn't give us any kind of detailed account. When New Natural Law theorists talk about integral human fulfillment, therefore, they just are talking about some kind of ordering of goods, even if it's not a rigid one. (But nothing requires that Aquinas's be taken as rigid, either.) And the reason for this is obvious: Both Aquinas and the New Natural Law theorists hold that natural law is both one and many, and so they both have accounts that indicate that it is so. (I take no position here about how they relate or don't relate to each other beyond this functional similarity.)

It's an interesting question how this scheme of basic goods relates to Aquinas's. One possible way to look at it is to see Aquinas as arguing forward from general considerations about human nature to the very general kinds of goods that are possible for a human life; whereas New Natural Law theorists are clearly arguing backwards from human culture, or custom, to the specific kinds of irreducible goods that are required for or at least common throughout human culture. This is why some people feel that the New Natural Law list of basic goods has a sort of rag-tag feel to it. But it is perfectly legitimate, although limiting, to argue in this direction; if Aquinas's approach is analogous to arguing from cause to effect, the New Natural Law approach is analogous to arguing from effect to cause. Nobody took Aquinas's scheme to be the only possible way to organize the discussion of goods, not even Aquinas, who is in context only handling the question of how natural law can be both unified and diverse. Aquinas's own specific natural law discussions are ordered according to virtues, and Suarez (for instance) notes that in addition you can order the precepts according to object (God, neighbor, self) and according to certainty (self-evident, proximately deduced, etc.).

Thus it's important to grasp that natural law theorists are not bound by Aquinas's scheme. The point of the scheme is simply to show how natural law can be coherent, and it does not exclude other schemes being perfectly legitimate. This does not mean that more robust interpretations of Aquinas's scheme are impossible or indefensible; only that in the most obvious context in which he raises it, he is only concerned with a very specific question, and to that extent any additional insights that might be derived from the scheme are incidental to his immediate topic. Hence the genuine possibility of diversity on this matter. It's not my concern here to adjudicate the differences between opposing varieties of natural law theory, nor their differing judgments about the importance of direct appeal to natural inclination, nor to combine them together in an irenic unity. Despite taking a position or two, I have not given any sort of general account. Rather, we're just looking at the basics here, which involves recognizing controversy while abstracting from many of its details.

In any case, in the next post we will move on to a less complicated and controversial discussion, that of how and why people deviate from natural law, before moving on to the question of how natural law is related to positive law.

Part IIIc

Monday, April 22, 2013

Notable Links, Notably Linked

* MrsD looks at the Grand Jury Report on the Gosnell case

* Brother Humbert Kilanowski, O.P., discusses how the Dominicans are different from the Jedi. (ht)

* TurretinFan has some excellent links to works of John Witherspoon that are available online. I've considered at some point discussing Witherspoon's criticisms of David Hume, and this will certainly make it easier. (He's very unimpressed, if you couldn't guess.)

* The editors at "n+1" criticize our modern taste for sociology

* John Kihlstrom argues against downplaying the role of reason in ethics on the basis of recent cognitive science work

* Colin McGinn criticizes Ray Kurzweil

* Science Toys You can Make with Your Kids

* Gerard N. Magliocca, The Canonization of the Bill of Rights (PDF) -- fascinating paper. Prior to the very late nineteenth century, people didn't put much emphasis on the Bill of Rights, as such. With Franklin Delano Roosevelt, however, the Bill of Rights became considered a major government document in its own right.

* David Kretzmer, The Inherent Right to Self-Defense and Proportionality in Jus Ad Bellum(PDF) at EJIL. There is some discussion, as well:

Thomas Liefländer, Ius ad bellum Proportionality is More Complicated Still: A Response to David Kretzmer

Gina Heathcote, Is it the right time to reconsider jus ad bellum proportionality?: a response to Kretzmer’s “The inherent right to self-defence and proportionality in jus ad bellum”

Noam Lubell, Comments on David Kretzmer's "The inherent right to self-defence and proportionality in jus ad bellum"

* A picture of Princess Elisabeth of the Palatinate, more commonly known as Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, just because I'll be talking about her philosophical correspondence with Rene Descartes in my classes today and tomorrow.

1636 Elisabeth of Bohemia

She's an interesting person. Online resources devoted to her seem somewhat deficient, but here are some links relevant to her:
Princess Palatine Elizabeth (Wayne C. Johnson)
Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia Timeline
Elizabeth of Bohemia Chronology

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saint of the Ship

Although it's superseded liturgically by Sunday, today is the feast of St. Anselm, variously called Anselm of Aosta, Anselm of Bec, and Anselm of Canterbury. Aosta, where he was born, is in the Italian Alps, close to France. St. Anselm joined the Benedictines; his original monastery was Bec Abbey in northern France. He became Abbot of the Abbey, succeeding Lanfranc, who went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm also succeeded Lanfranc at Canterbury. He was a major figure in the late phase of the controversial Gregorian Reform and was exiled twice due to the investiture controversy, the major Church-state issue of the day. He also had an important effect on church politics in England. At the time it was unclear whether Canterbury or York was the primary see in England; it is due to Anselm's maneuvering that Canterbury became recognized as having the primacy. His canonization as a saint was largely due to the work of St. Thomas Becket, although we don't actually know the exact date when the canonization occurred -- and given the era, in which formal canonization was only just developing, it could very well be that there was no exact date, and that it's simply the case that the practice of putting him on calendars of saints spread. Certainly his being recognized by Canterbury and the Benedictines would have helped, if that's what happened. He was made Doctor of the Church in 1720 for the quality and importance of his teaching.

He's most famous for his writings, of course, but this year I thought it might be worthwhile to point out that he didn't just spend time writing, but was actually involved in some of the major practical and political controversies of his day. This is, incidentally, the reason why one of Anselm's iconographic symbols is the ship: it represents his work in trying to keep the Church independent of the state.

Since it's Sunday, it won't be used, but the Collect for his feast is a pretty good one:

O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom, grant, we pray, that our faith in you may so aid our understanding, that what we believe by your command may give delight to our hearts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.