Saturday, January 26, 2019

Two New Poem Drafts

If you didn't know about the moon last week: a Supermoon is a full moon at its closest approach to the earth, the Wolf Moon is the full moon in January, and a Blood Moon is a full lunar eclipse, because the moon turns red. It was quite a sight. For reasons that I cannot fathom, all the news reports called it "Super Blood Wolf Moon", which sounds like it was made up by an eight-year-old. It makes no sense; 'supermoon' is one word, so why would you split it?

Blood Wolf Supermoon

Quite bitter chill pervades the night,
biting deep; the silver light,
white with grace and vast to sight,
brightly beams -- but wolfish bite,
night's dark jaws, with vicious spite
light like blood will pour on white.

Everything Flows to the Sea

Rise up my darling, come dancing with me;
let the wave of your hair and your spirit float free;
I wish this sweet moment would evermore be,
but everything flows to the sea.

All is in motion and nothing is still,
nor can we stay it by power of will;
we cascade through life and tumble until
everything flows to the sea.

As the wind through the grass
will rejoice and then pass,
as the earth ever turns
and the wood swiftly burns,
as the day turns to night
and all dreams take to flight,
so everything flows to the sea.

Cast off your shoes and leap lightly along,
fill all your days with the splendor of song;
one day in darkness you'll join the great throng,
for everything flows to the sea.

Music on My Mind

The High Kings, "Red is the Rose".

Friday, January 25, 2019

Dashed Off II

A major difference between Greek and Roman mythology is that the Greeks were promiscuous tale-tellers, whose religion literally involved coming up with stories about the gods.

A constitutional concept cannot be merely abstract. (The closest one gets is preambular material in written constitutions, but even this has no significance except so far as it is embodied in the actual institutions and practices.)

"...there is but ONE law which can experience no change whatever; namely that similar qualities in union necessarily include similar results...." Lady Mary Shepherd

Note Shepherd's analogy between the cumulative force of miracles as evidence and the readiness to appear for establishing independent existence.

The case of testimony establishes that a weaker kind of evidence can 'destroy' a stronger kind, if the particular circumstances are appropriately right for it and not for the stronger kind of evidence.

(1) The memory is tenacious to a certain degree.
(2) Men commonly have an inclination to truth.
(3) Men are sensible of shame when detected in falsehood.

We cannot make sense of testimony without assuming an a priori connection between testimony and reality; testimony is intrinsically an 'image', even if falsified, of reality. What we learn by experience is ease and modes of falsification rather than the existence of the connection.

Hume's account of testimony takes lack of education *in itself* to be a strike against testimony. but this is not so for the actual appearance of the phenomena. An unschooled man can testify as well as a schooled one to what he honestly and truly saw.

Nobody needs to attribute undoubted integrity to a source to place them beyond all suspicion of a design to deceive; the reverse is true, but there is no equivalence.

That the apparent course of nature may be altered is clear from the history of the appearance of the course of nature.

Eloquence at its highest pitch is never purely a matter of fancy or the affections; this is to confuse it with entertainment.

All court systems have sharp limits on their speed and flexibility; they should never be the first gate in upholding justice, but the last bulwark. It is clear that almost all modern democratic nations over-rely on their court systems.

"It is the nature of the hero-cult, as distinct from the worship of ancestors, to spread spontaneously over a wide area, if it possesses sufficient energy and attractiveness." Farnell

If a composite thing were to pop into existence, its doing so would be entirely explained in terms of the popping into existence of its parts in relation to each other. Therefore nothing composite can be a 'brute fact', nor can the coming-into-existence of anything composite be a brute fact.

"The Canon Yeoman's Tale" as giving the structure of a con game

'Grasping' is an excellent metaphor for understanding because physical grasping (1) is factive, in the sense that what one grasps, is; (2) is described by analogous linguistic constructions -- it takes an object in analogously describable ways; (3) it is described in strong-tone ways, in that grasping is stronger than touching, holding, etc.

Pleasure as pleasantness, as sense of reward, and as satisfaction of desire, all come apart, and yet all have been conflated by utilitarians.

"Plato was the first who used the word 'theology'..., and he evidently was the creator of the idea. He used it in his Republic, where we wanted to set up certain philosophical standards and criteria for poetry." Jaeger

NB Aristotle's comment that apeiron is cause qua mind (Anaxagoras) or qua eros (Empedocles) in those who hold that it encompasses and governs all, and this is the divine because it is deathless and incorruptible (Anaximander).

True genius has something like prescience, for true genius reflects something of the eternal.

One of Pascal's key apologetic insights was that the men who were despising faith for not being knowledge were nonetheless gambling. This can be generalized: When they despise something Christian, look at what they nonetheless are doing.

Conviction and sympathy are the two aspects of hortatory power.

No epistemology can be right that does not recognize that understanding outstrips reasoning.

"It is hardly too much to say, that almost all reasons formally adduced in moral inquiries, are rather specimens and symbols of the real grounds, than those grounds themselves." Newman

Contemplative prayer is the act by which one adapts oneself better to God's simplicity.

"We cannot teach except by aspects or views, which are not identical with the thing itself which we are teaching." Newman

'ontological argument' for possibility: idea of possibility; therefore necessarily something is possible

Mary, Emblem of Grace

Property has a twofold aspect, being an instrument for furthering common good and a remedy against oppression.

intrinsic vs. extrinsic title to anger, etc.

Art tends naturally to syncretism.

One cannot be a good journalist without studying the field on which one reports. A journalist does not need to be an expert, but a journalist needs to avoid being a fool.

compassion : sorrow :: congratulation : joy

Republics have the curious feature of being both stingy and careless with money.

NB Adam Smith takes worldly contempt to be a harder trial for virtue than death (TMS

Note that St. Cyril of Alexandria takes Deuteronomy 20:19-20 to give the appropriate strategy for dealing with heretics.

Multi-ethnic empires have historically been built not on tolerance but on force-backed compromise.

the Democritean theory of religion:
(1) eidola seen in dreams (residues of sense-perception) which have beneficial or maleficial effects --> prayer as wish for propitious images
(2) guilt & anxiety over wicked ways given a failure to understand death
(3) paradoxa of nature (eclipses, storms, stellar events) leading to fear of their causes

The human mind is so splendid that it can do extraordinary things even with errors.

Goethe is a genius most easily admired at a distance.

For most of us most of the time, even human wisdom is known only by triplex via; how much more divine Wisdom!

The lives of martyrs make available a 'particular and privileged vantage point' on worldly reasoning.

- analysis of society in terms of potential for charitable action

It is not enough to treat mothering as work; one must treat it as an honorable profession and a humanitarian tradition.

Every Catholic is called to cultivate the standpoint of the saints.

standpoint as a creative ability (Miriam Solomon)

In theology the epistemic authority that matters is holiness.

preservative love, fostering of growth, and training

The martyrs critique by being there.

Our body is experienced in terms of both facility and resistance.

internal goods (of a practice) as related to trying well, doing well, and succeeding well

kisses as questions vs as assertions

the whole of x is y, the whol of x is not y, not the whole of x is not y, not the whole of x is y (subalternates)
the whole of x is y, the whole of x is not y, part of x is y, part of x is not y (does not subalternate)
-- the fallacy of division as related to subalternation

In ritual one feels one's way through the means to the appropriate ends.

Every actual liberalism gives preference ot the liberties of some over the liberties of others.

position, influence, school
position, implication, system

Sukkot & Hanukkah (2 Macc 1:9, 1:18, 10:6)

Economics is most commonly the theory of predicting teh policies that economists will recommend.

'What is?' as an 'axiomatic' question

Even the appearance of injustice eats away at society.

The human mind by its nature is suggestive of infinity, and has often been recognized as such.

"We act unconsciously as if we were infinite." Tiele

"All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue." John Adams

infinite intelligibility arguments
(1) final cause (Aristotelian: Aquinas)
(2) formal/exemplar (Platonistic: Malebranche)
(3) necessary postulate of action (Transcendentalist: Brownson)

Newman's notes of development as applied to actions genuinely unfolding from faith rather than other motives (i.e., development at the individual level)

"There is nothing harder than to determine the real character of the religion of a people, even when the religion is still living." Sayce

(1) Being is a transcendental perfection.
(2) What is entailed by a transcendental perfection is a transcendental perfection, either entitative, or a transcendental of eminence, or a transcendental of distinction.

If anything is possible, something is necessary.

formal plausibility (extrapolative) vs material plausibility (associative)

Every self-evident principle is also a heuristic principle.

charity as moral panchymogon

In the long term, even at its best, progressivism starts to err into micromanagement.

the fourfold beginning of Christ: in God (John), in Israel (Matthew), in Mary (Luke), in the Baptism (Mark)

the right to quiet enjoyment of one's life

Suppose a Change o' Cases

Tonight is Burns Night, the 260th anniversary of Robert Burns's birthday in 1759. So it seems fitting to re-post a poem that has been with this blog almost since the beginning.

Address to the Unco Guid, Or the Rigidly Righteous
by Robert Burns

        My Son, these maxims make a rule,
        An' lump them aye thegither;
        The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
        The Rigid Wise anither:
        The cleanest corn that ere was dight
        May hae some pyles o' caff in;
        So ne'er a fellow-creature slight
        For random fits o' daffin.
        Solomon.-Eccles. ch. vii. verse 16.

O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neibours' fauts and folly!
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi' store o' water;
The heaped happer's ebbing still,
An' still the clap plays clatter.

Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom's door
For glaikit Folly's portals:
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences-
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.

Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment's fair regard,
What maks the mighty differ;
Discount what scant occasion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what's aft mair than a' the lave),
Your better art o' hidin.

Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop!
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop!
Wi' wind and tide fair i' your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o' baith to sail,
It maks an unco lee-way.

See Social Life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they're grown
Debauchery and Drinking:
O would they stay to calculate
Th' eternal consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state,
Damnation of expenses!

Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o' cases;
A dear-lov'd lad, convenience snug,
A treach'rous inclination-
But let me whisper i' your lug,
Ye're aiblins nae temptation.

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark, -
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.

The Burns Monument in Edinburgh:

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From his most famous work, Introduction to a Devout Life:

It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be practised in these outer vocations, but there are various other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the paths of perfection. The Old Testament furnishes us examples in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Job, Tobias, Sarah, Rebecca and Judith; and in the New Testament we read of St. Joseph, Lydia and Crispus, who led a perfectly devout life in their trades:—we have S. Anne, Martha, S. Monica, Aquila and Priscilla, as examples of household devotion, Cornelius, S. Sebastian, and S. Maurice among soldiers;—Constantine, S. Helena, S. Louis, the Blessed Amadaeus, and S. Edward on the throne. And we even find instances of some who fell away in solitude,—usually so helpful to perfection,—some who had led a higher life in the world, which seems so antagonistic to it. S. Gregory dwells on how Lot, who had kept himself pure in the city, fell in his mountain solitude. Be sure that wheresoever our lot is cast we may and must aim at the perfect life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Unfeeling World!

The Ways of the World
by Sir Aubrey de Vere

Unfeeling World! I mourn your vanished worth:
For when I look around, where'er I turn,
I can see nought but selfishness on earth;
The Rich are grown too strong, the Poor forlorn;
The tongue of Malice thrives; and there's a dearth
Of all the milder traits that should adorn
Or smooth the frailties of our human birth.
O! I would rather, in some distant nook,
Beneath a sheltering oak, beside a brook,
Far from the varying passions of mankind,
Know nothing of their ways but in a book;
Be to their follies deaf, their vices blind,
And leave, for ever, all their joys and griefs behind!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Principle of Heightened Responsibility

We often talk as if responsibility were a sort of general and ongoing thing, but in practice we recognize that special situations can call for special kinds of responsibility -- things that are serious become more serious, things that are morally necessary somehow become even more necessary. There are several things that can intensify our duties and obligations, but the overwhelming majority of cases fall under a single principle, which in practice tends to be the principle of heightened responsibility: Responsibilities and obligations are more serious, and our actions with regard to them must be held to higher standards, in cases involving relevantly vulnerable people. This principle is not a principle that defines any particular course of action; rather it changes the modality of obligations and responsibilities we already have. It is a form of the responsibility to be appropriately responsible. (In the history of ethics, there is not, as far as I can see, much extended discussion of these kinds of principles, although they keep popping up. Probably the most developed discussion is found in William Whewell, who discusses things like the Principle of Earnestness, which is a different principle, but one that also affects modality rather than content of duty. But even Whewell's discussions are at a very general level.)

The kind of relevant vulnerability varies depending on what we are talking about. Patients are relevantly vulnerable with respect to doctors, students with respect to teachers; family members, the disabled, the elderly, minorities, employees might all be relevantly vulnerable in different cases. In general there needs to be some specific reason provided why there should be heightened responsibility with regard to these people in these circumstances; if you are too promiscuous about what requires heightened responsibility, you are obviously not talking about heightened responsibility but just ordinary responsibility. There is one group, however, that has the status of having universally relevant vulnerability: children, or minors more broadly. Any situation involving minors creates heightened responsibilities. This does not, of course, mean that the responsibility is unrestricted (again, it doesn't actually change your duties, but only the way you should go about them) or that everyone must freak out all the time with children; it just means that, when minors are involved, you should not only try to do what is right but take special care to do it, hold yourself to special scrutiny in how you do it, and take special precautions when appropriate.

This is recognized by most decent people in most situations. It's why trying juveniles as adults is a matter for serious ethical argument. It's why, when minors become public figures for any reason people are rightly slapped down for not taking into account their age when responding to them. It's why people were reasonably upset to see children in caged areas in ICE stations. It's why "They're kids" can be the kernel of a genuine, even if not always definitive, moral argument. We recognize that ordinary obligations and duties require special attention when children are involved. The principle of heightened responsibility with regard to minors is a basic moral principle of all civilized and decent people.

This past weekend, of course, we were treated to the shameful sight of a vast number of adults not grasping their responsibilities when it comes to minors, and doing in so ways that, sometimes, were such that I would not hesitate to call them evil and wicked. It was indeed a serious reminder of just how evil ordinary people can be when they begin to mob. A Catholic school from Kentucky had sent a group of boys on a field trip to Washington, DC for the March for Life. A confrontation during the trip blew up to huge proportions when a video went viral and journalists reported on it; it spread through social media, to huge uproar. Students from that high school -- including some that had not gone on the trip -- were threatened; people in social media tried to doxx them; then it came out that maybe there was more to the matter than originally had been thought, leading eventually to a spate of apologies; and it still continues with people trying to justify themselves over the matter, so that, for instance, the school had to cancel classes today out of safety concerns. Now, whatever the political situation, in a civilized society, decent people do not go about trying to intimidate or punish anyone they choose; and when dealing with high school students, the principle of heightened responsibility applies to this. There was one tweet that I thought summarized the attitude of a lot of people involved; it said, and I quote, "We must condemn those actions as wrong so that they and others will learn to recognize them as such." This kind of reasoning is sociopathic. The 'we' that they assume to exist does not exist. Most people are not parents, school officials, the priest or bishop or even the chaperones. The appropriate response -- one might almost say the response that one would expect of any reasonable adult -- is to recognize that inquiries and punishments, if any, need to be done by the relevant authorities, and when dealing with high school students, 'relevant authorities' does not include random people surfing on the internet or reading news articles. In a serious case, you might inform the relevant authorities. And that's it. Nothing else is appropriate behavior. It does not matter how bad you consider it; you don't have the authority to stalk, harass, and bully people merely because you think what they did was bad. And whatever complications to this one supposes there to be in real life, when there are minors involved, heightened responsibility applies and you have to demand more of yourself in avoiding this sort of injustice.

But this is not the only failure. Both the school and the diocese failed to exercise their responsibilities properly to try to guarantee fair protections for the minors involved. Their statements in the first phase of the uproar are extraordinary examples of putting placating other people over other concerns. It's not that they didn't do something like their duty; their doing it was inadequate probably even in ordinary circumstances, but in this case, involving high school students they had a responsibility to protect from injustice, it was utterly inadequate, although, alas, not too far from what we've had to come to expect from schools and bishops.

The most serious failures, however, were in the press. Journalistic ethics is a remarkably well developed field of professional ethics. There are lots of excellent professional codes of journalistic ethics, and there has been a lot of honest and very intelligent discussion in the journalistic community about ethical issues arising in the field. And throughout even very different approaches to journalistic ethics, you find a number of recurring themes, of which three in particular are relevant here:

(1) Journalists, as such, have a special responsibility with regard to the truth, in the sense that they have the responsibility as journalists to make every reasonable effort to guarantee that those receiving the news are receiving everything they need in order to interpret and evaluate as part of trying to discover the real state of what happened.

(2) Journalists have a responsibility to the public good; the difference between journalism and gossip-mongering is that the former involves taking the trouble to consider what is genuinely appropriate to the public good, in ways that are genuinely appropriate to the public good.

(3) Closely related to (2), everyone has the the right not to be subject to unnecessary intrusion; when journalists publish matters potentially harmful to someone, it needs to be justifiable by some necessity created by (2). No journalist has the right to strip someone of their ordinary privacy protections and expose them unprotected to public view; the tabloid tendency to engage in unnecessary intrusion is precisely why they have a bad name.

Now, all of these should be operative all the time. There was a kerfuffle a while back in which CNN exposed the identity of the pseudonymous creator of a gif mocking CNN; that was a very grave violation of journalistic ethics. CNN had no right to the intrusion by any principle in any standard of ethics recognized by professional journalistic associations. The existence of tabloids shows that such principles are often violated; journalism is, for reasons that are not wholly the fault of journalists themselves, is subject to far more extensive ethical violations than many other professional fields. But they should be in play, and any respectable journalist will ensure that they are.

But it's clear that in this case all three ethical responsibilities were violated; and this is an especial problem here given the principle of heightened responsibility. In the middle phase of the controversy it became quite clear that journalists reporting on it had often failed to make a serious effort to gather and provide information that was available and relevant to evaluating what happened. Given that minors were involved and that this was a controversial matter, it was an especially grave form of negligence not to do things right and by-the-book from the very beginning. Second, many journalistic outlets published a particular photo showing one particular student's face very clearly. Now, in any situation involving something that can be regarded as negative, publishing a name or a photo of someone is an ethically serious matter. It's not just the person in the news who is affected by it; people are mistaken for other people all the time, and there have been many cases of people who were harmed because they happened to share a name with someone, or because they happened to look like someone, about whom something negative was reported in the press. In addition, journalism is not infallible; sometimes what appears bad turns out, with further information, not to be so. In many cases, of course, there is good reason why someone's name or photo can and should be provided; but not for private persons who could potentially be harmed by it when there is no clearly definable public-interest need for it. And all of this is vastly more serious when we are dealing with minors.

It should not have to be said, but, unfortunately, in this age of moral barbarism apparently does, that none of this is affected in any way by one's assessment of the original event. That you think a high school student did something bad does not make them cease being high school students, and it provides no license or pass for failing in your responsibility to take special care in doing right by them. And this is all a matter of basic ethics, not particularly controversial even between very different ethical schools of thought; recognizing that special care needs to be taken when minors are involved, regardless of the situation, is part of what it is to be civilized. I have unfortunately seen more and more cases of uncivilized behavior in this respect; but usually it's just someone exercising bad judgment here, not taking proper care there. The scale -- and in some cases the self-justifying obstinacy -- with which it was done in this case, though, has been mind-boggling.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Fac Bonum et Omitte Malum

Today, of course, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. As one might expect from the name, it honors an American hero, a man who, while not a saint, did great and admirable things. But one never merely has a holiday for a man. The day also remembers the Civil Rights Movement in general, of which he was only one leader among many, although the one perhaps who did most in the attempt to make the Civil Rights Movement truly a movement of the whole nation. But I think also more generally, and in practice, the day serves as a remembrance of the natural law traditions that have shaped the American republic. I say 'traditions' because there have been several, and not all consistent with each other, but the day serves as a reminder of the central principle of them all, that there is a moral order to which human law and custom must answer. And this is important particularly for a republic; a republic that recognizes no authority higher than human is a republic that has begun to die. In any case, all of this is to say that it's an appropriate day for a brief post on a natural-law-related topic.

From Kant's Lectures on Ethics[Infield, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 1980)]:

The statement 'fac bonum et omitte malum' cannot, however, be a basic principle of moral obligation, because the good can be good in diverse ways according to the end chosen, the statement being thus an axiom of skill or of prudence, whereas for it to embody a moral principle it would have to imply that which is good for moral action. (p. 25)

This particular version of the first precept of natural law is from Wolff (although in context Kant attributes it to Baumgarten); it is in line with the traditional Thomistic view although not exactly the same. However, the difference is not particularly important for my purposes, because Kant is in fact right here. This is not a problem for traditional natural law theory because traditional natural law theory is structured on this very point.

'Good is to be done and sought, bad is to be avoided' or 'do good and avoid bad' are not direct statements of moral obligation. There are many reasons for this, but the basic point is that these are general principles of practical reason itself. They cover all practical fields about which we can rationally deliberate, not just morality, and that includes, as Kant correctly recognizes, matters of skill and of prudence.

Kant will go on to say that it is tautological, which, depending on what precisely you take that mean, is also arguably right. His idea is that the command 'fac bonum' here just boils down to 'it is good that actions happen that are good'. One can quibble about the precise formulation, but there is a legitimate truth here, one that is often misunderstood even by people wishing to understand natural law: the most fundamental precepts of natural law are supposed to divide rational from irrational behavior, and therefore violating them is supposed to be irrational, just like violating the principle of noncontradiction. But this, too, is not a problem for natural law theory, since natural law theory is deliberately built like this.

So both the objections are true as far as they go. However, that they are not serious problems for natural law theory in general can be seen by looking at the natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas. In Aquinas's account, 'Good is to be done and sought, bad is to be avoided' is explicitly the practical reason counterpart of the principle of noncontradiction. Just as all theoretical reasoning is held, in one way or another, to the standard of the principle of noncontradiction, and just as any reasoning that violates the the principle of noncontradiction is irrational, so too with practical reason and the first principle of practical reason. (Indeed, although it's not an essential point to make here, I think there is a very good argument that Aquinas thinks they are in a sense the same, given the coextensiveness of good and being.) Thus all practical reasoning whatsoever is governed by the first principle of practical reason, 'Good is to be done and sought, bad is to be avoided'. This is true of your decision to tie your shoe, of your choice of what to eat for lunch, of where to go on vacation, of, in short, everything in your practical life.

It also applies to moral obligation. But how does the obligation arise? In Aquinas what we call 'obligation' he calls 'law' -- indeed on any natural law theory, the latter is the more proper term, with 'obligation' being a metaphor for what law does. Aquinas famously defines a law according to its four Aristotelian causes:

A law is a particular ordering of reason to common good by one who is caretaker for what is common, promulgated.

So if we look at the first principle of practical reason just on its own, what is missing for it to be an obligation? It is obviously an ordering of reason; indeed, there is a sense in which it is the ordering of reason, the most fundamental one. Because it can be known by any rational person, it is promulgated, that is, it is in principle possible for those who are supposed to follow it, to follow it, which is the point of promulgation. What is missing is common good. The first principle of practical reason on its own is an ordering to good, but it is not restricted to common good. Once we do restrict it, that is apply it to that kind of good which is common good, we get the caretaker clause immediately; on Aquinas's account the natural caretaker for any common good is the whole body of rational beings whose common good it is.

There are lots of different kinds of common goods. To get morality in the full sense, we would have to apply the principle to that common good that is the most general common good we human beings definitely share. And that is the common good of the entire human race. That common good involves a lot of different subsidiary goods, but they concern, at least among other things, the goods we share that are relevant to our individual physical survival, the survival of the human race, and our survival as rational social beings. Given this, the first principle of practical reason becomes the first precept of natural law, the fundamental obligation.

And it is very fundamental, and very deliberately so. The point of identifying the first precept is not to identify directly what the right thing in any particular case is. You can't do that without reasoning about the goods involved in the particular case. (This is something Kant himself smuggles in, unacknowledged, in his notion of a 'maxim'.) The first precept provides a standard that has to be met by every action and all practical reasoning that touches on matters of common good. In general, natural law theorists don't think it is the only standard; it's just the most general one. In your explicit reasoning it might not even show up, just as you don't normally have to introduce the principle of noncontradiction as a premise in an argument about theoretical subjects. But it is what makes your reasoning about what you ought to do coherent at all.

So in a natural law account, being moral is acting reasonably with regard to matters important to us all. Natural law theorists do not make the sharp distinction between the pragmatic and the moral that Kant does; they are the same kind of things, just differing as to the kinds of goods in view. And once natural law is recognized, then all other kinds of law and obligation have to conform to it -- if they violate it they violate both reason and common good, so fail at two of the four requirements for a law.

What is more, since the most fundamental precepts of natural law are part of what it is to be rational in the first place, all moral reasoning whatsoever involves them, in the same sense that all reasoning involves the principle of noncontradiction. This includes arguments that never explicitly talk about natural law. All ethical arguments are natural law arguments; the only question is whether they are good arguments. This is also something that is often forgotten even by people who want to affirm natural law theory: natural law theory is not a theory of arguments that explicitly mention 'natural law', but a theory of all moral reasoning whatsoever.

Other natural law theories are not always so clean and clear-cut as Aquinas's, so some of these points are a bit more complicated in those cases than they are when we are talking about the Thomistic version. But in pretty much every case, its true that the first precepts of natural law are specified versions of more general practical principles, and they are concerned with rational consistency in our actions, whatever goods we may consider, so that what we ought to do has to consider the goods involved, and not just the abstract formal principle. So, again, Kant's two objections are right; they are, in fact, deliberate elements of natural law theory, and for the natural law theorist they are not bugs but features. Kant wouldn't be satisfied by that, of course, but that's only to be expected.

Creative, Understanding Good Will

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must not do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Loving Your Enemies".

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Fortnightly Book, January 20

The new term is starting up, so I thought I'd do something I've read before, particularly after the unexpectedly trek through Narnia in various formats. So the next fortnightly book is Persuasion, by Jane Austen.

While persuasion does play an important role in the course of the story, Persuasion is not actually Austen's own title. By 1816, Austen was not feeling well. She continued to work on various projects, including The Brothers, which would becoming the unfinished fragment usually published today under the title Sanditon, which I did for a fortnightly book way back in 2012. Around the same time she completed a full draft of Persuasion, the first novel that she had not worked up from a much earlier draft; she went through a series of drafts in a matter of two or three years. When she died on July 18, 1817, she hadn't done much further revision of it, but she apparently expected it to be published the next year, so we can reasonably assume that she thought it was at least approaching readiness for publication. In any case, it was published posthumously, along with Northanger Abbey, which despite being much earlier was the only other work of hers that was in fully complete form. Persuasion was the title her brother Henry put on the work. Her own working title for it was probably The Elliots.

Anne Elliot is an unmarried girl of twenty-seven who has lost her 'bloom' and thus finds her prospects dwindling away rapidly. She had been engaged seven years before to a certain Captain Wentworth, but she had been persuaded by her family and a close friend to break off the engagement. And now she will find herself meeting him again....