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Quaestiones

Captive Dreams
Elsewhere, the Usual Suspects brought up a perennial question, and it amused me to take the counterarguments and the sed contra from what seem at first unlikely sources.

De moralitate atheorum

Question: Whether those who do not believe in God may act morally. 

Objection 1. It would seem not, because  as Jean-Paul Sartre held in
"Existentialism is a Humanism, there disappears with God all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that 'the good' exists, that one must be honest or not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.

Objection 2.  Furthermore, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 
The_Twilight_of_the_Idols,   "when one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands."

Objection 3. In addition, the atheist philosopher Richard Rorty wrote, in
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, "For liberal ironists, there is no answer to the question 'Why not be cruel?' - no noncicular theoretical backup for the belief that cruelty is horrible. ... Anyone who thinks that there are well grounded theoretical answers to this sort of question - algorithms for resolving moral dilemmas of this sort - is still, in his heart, a theologian or metaphysician.  He believes in an order beyond time and change which both determines the point of human existence and establishes a hierarchy of repsonisbilities." 

Objection 4.  Also Voltaire did not believe in God but wanted his butler to believe because he thought he would then be robbed less. And Rousseau thought that a nation needed a religion if it was to accept laws and policies directed at the long term future. Without religion, people would insist on immediate gain, to their eventual cost. Clearly, they believed that without religion there would be no morality, save among the Enlightened. 

Objection 5. Also Alex Rosenberg, in
"The Disenchanted Naturalists Guide to Reality, asserts that naturalism denies the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail, and we just have to learn to live with that. A belief in meanings and purposes is what puts us on a “slippery slope” to religion.

On the Contrary, St. Paul
writes in
Romans 2:11-16, "There is no partiality with God.  All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it.  For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified.  For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law unto themselves...  They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus." 

Respondeo.  First, a distinction must be made between living morally according to a code adopted from others and developing a moral code from one's own first principles.  Clearly, it is possible to behave morally by adopting the morality of others.  Nietzsche was actually complaining about this:

"When the English actually believe that they know "intuitively" what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt."
 

Nietzsche did not approve -- he was more interested in behaving immorally -- and thought it would not last. 

It is more problematical to say that such standards can be derived from other, secular principle, like freedom and equality (or justice, fairness and impartiality).  Once the "right answers" are found "in the back of the book," it is a simple matter to devise a just-so story deriving those answers from some favored principle. 

But Stanley Fish writes in
"Are There Secular Reasons?" (NY Times Opinionator Blog, February 22, 2010, 6:00 pm) that this is inherently parasitical on religion and merely smuggles in "notions about a purposive cosmos, or a teleological nature stocked with Aristotelian ‘final causes’" in secular disguise.  "Fairness" et al. are empty abstractions from which nothing follows until we have answered “fairness in relation to what standard?” or “equality with respect to what measures?” That is, something prior to fairness and equality, etc. are the actual ground of morality.  

But St. Paul does not say merely that atheists/gentiles can plagiarize morality from the Jews, but that they can find the law "written in their own hearts." His concept of synderesis (or "conscience") derives from Plato's Timaeus and contends that people can form correct moral conclusions through exercise of reason*

This approach is unique to Western law.  Other legal codes are based strictly on simple obedience to explicitly spelled out statutes.  Hence, Western morality developed doctrines like the right to disobey an immoral order or to overthrow a tyrant (Aquinas,
"On kingship") and the that rights inhered in people by their nature (Fr. Domingo deSoto) that were unknown elsewhere. 

Most post-modern "new atheists" go along with St. Paul and Christianity in this belief rather than Sartre and the other atheist thinkers.  Old-school atheists claim this is because new atheists do not think too deeply about their atheism.  Nietzsche could stare into the Abyss and find the Abyss staring back; but the post-modern stares into the abyss, says "Whatever," and goes off to watch "American Idol."   

But if "the demands of the law are written in [our] hearts," it becomes necessary to learn how to read.  Synderesis does not mean that every whim or passing desire is moral.  The conscience must be formed by good habits.  Good habits [virtues] are those which dispose us to perform acts consistent with our nature.  Bad habits [vices] dispose us to perform acts not consistent with our nature.  When we are clear what acts are consistent with our nature, we will be clear what constitutes good and bad. 

Every voluntary act is two acts. 
  • An interior act of the will whose object is the end; and
  • the exterior act whose object is the means
The first is the formal cause while the second is the material cause of the act.  Thus, materially, I might reach out and grab a baseball bat.  Formally, I may intend to hit a home run or (more modestly) a base hit.  Or I might pick it up with the formal intention of making some of those English flatheads flatter.  Picking up the bat is the means to those ends and is good or bad only with respect to the end toward which it is employed.  It is in the end that the morality lies.   

Now, the nature of the human being is the rational soul.(**)  Therefore, for man, what is good is what is in accordance with reason, which makes moral virtue inseparable from intellectual virtue.(***)   Intellectual and moral virtue are not the same, nor can one be reduced to the other.  The intellectual virtues are habits of intellect and the moral virtues are habits of appetite or will. 

A. The intellectual virtues.   
1. Understanding is the habit of principles;
2. Knowledge ["science" in the broad sense] is the habit of proximate causes;
3. Wisdom is the habit of ultimate causes. 

The root of this triad is understanding, since without a firm grasp of principles, neither science nor wisdom is possible.  Wisdom judges both understanding and its principles and also knowledge and its conclusions. 

But it is not enough to think well, we must also act well; that is, act according to reason and not blind impulse or passion.  The principle here is not the intellect, but the will, more specifically the end the will seeks.  There must be a fourth intellectual virtue:

4. Prudence, which puts reason into a state to determine the means to that end. 

As prudence is the culmination of the intellectual virtues, so is she the root of the moral ones: 
B. The moral virtues.
1. Justice regulates our acts independently of our dispositions as regards what is due or not due to another. 

Two sins against Justice are capitalism, which is greed rampant, and socialism, which is envy ramapant.  Consumerism, which is opposed to both, is gluttony rampant, and falls into a the next category; namely, our interior dispositions at the moment of acting.  These dispositions lead to the other two moral virtues. 

2. If we are drawn by passion toward an act contrary to reason, we must call upon temperance.
3. If we are impeded by fear or sloth from acting as reason says we ought, we must call upon courage

The moral virtues perfect the will just as the intellectual virtues perfect the intellect. No one is blameworthy for being a bad scientist or a bad artist; but very much so for being an extortioner, a drunkard, or a coward.  

Nothing prevents an atheist from reasoning in this way.  This was Paul's point while dealing with the rationalist Greeks.  However, certain predispositions of modern atheism are subversive of the rationalist approach.  That is because in the meantime, we have gone through the triumph of the will.  This stifles cool, measured, bourgeois reflection on the moral.  Instead of saying "I think that...," we now say "I feel that..." 

It has become de mode to confuse the appetites with the intellect, to confuse what we want with what is good.  This is why so many people today feel [note: "feel," not "think"] that morality is a "personal" matter and that there can be no objective morality.  But to indulge the appetites rather than the intellect requires that we reject temperance.  But to throw temperance out the window, we must first discard prudence, and prudence is the coupling between the intellect and the will.

Thus intemperance severs the linkage between what we want and what we know.  Each person judges his own desires to be good, even when this contradicts the universal judgement of reason.  I would like to eat whatever I want and not get fat; but reason tells me I cannot.  Reason tells me that for a healthy body, I should eat this and not that, and this much but not that much.(****)  We recognize the moral dimension of this when we say "That food is bad for you."  On the other hand, someone who wants to eat can rationalize pigging out.  So intemperance eventually becomes habituated. 

The irony is that the triumph of the will leads to a lack of will power, and "freedom" results in enslavement to the passions. 

In neurological language, the primitive neural patterns emerging from the brain stem become "vulcanized" and impede the higher level neural patterns originating in the cortex.  ("Vulcanization of neural patterns is modern scientifical talk for "habits."  Cf. Cohen,
The Vulcanization of the Human Brain: A Neural Perspective on Interactions Between Cognition and Emotion.  Note the emergent Aristotelianism: Cognition and Emotion here coding for Intellect and Will.)  But this subordination denies our essence as rational beings in favor of a view of humans as mere bundles of appetites. 

Edward Skidelsky wrote in
"Words that Think for Us" (Prospect Magazine 18 Nov 2009) that modern society avoids explicit moral language.  Words like "improper and indecent" have been replaced by words like “inappropriate” and “unacceptable.” "An affair between a teacher and a pupil that was once improper is now inappropriate." 

But improper and indecent express moral judgements, while inappropriate and unacceptable suggest the breach of some social convention. Such “non-judgemental” forms of speech are tailored to a society wary of explicit moral language.  He  writes that liberals "seek only adherence to rules of the game, not agreement on fundamentals. What was once an offence against decency must be recast as something akin to a faux pas."

But this new, neutralised language does not spell any increase in freedom. When I call your action indecent, I state a fact that can be controverted. When I call it inappropriate, I invoke an institutional context—one which, by implication, I know better than you. ... This is what makes the new idiom so sinister. Calling your action indecent appeals to you as a human being; calling it inappropriate asserts official power.

And note, too: "As liberal pluralists, we seek only adherence to rules of the game, not agreement on fundamentals."  Note how this rejects the Western idea of conscience (synderesis) and hearkens back to the non-Western definition of good behavior as adherence to statutes promulgated by the Father-figure in the palace. 

Reply to Obj. 1.  Sartre seems to hold that standards of moral value presuppose that there is such a thing as human nature, but that essences or natures are divine concepts.  Thus, in a Godless universe there can be no such thing as human nature, and thus no right ordering toward perfection of such a nature.  Hence, in a Godless universe there can be no objective standards of moral value. However, this is contingent on the existence of God, not on the belief in God.  If there is such a being, then there are human natures and hence standards of morality, and people may discover those standards by reason, as St. Paul contended, regardless of their particular beliefs. 

Reply to Obj. 2. Nietzche seems to say that moral standards depend on the belief in God more so than on his existence.  It was his conscious intention to reject that morality, and he attacked the English atheists precisely because they continued to adhere to the Christian morality without the Christ.  The West has been marinating in Judaeo-Christian morality for over a thousand years and it is easy to mistake long-established customs for laws of nature. Whether this is sustainable once the marinade is drained is an open question.  But the objection is precisely that atheists are continuing to practice Christian morality, which answers itself. 

Reply to Obj. 3.  Rorty may be right that atheists who set up moral systems are themselves practicing a kind of theology, as Stanley Fish pointed out. 

Reply to Obj. 4.  Voltaire and Rousseau were only being hypocrites, but evidently believed firmly that without religion all those icky working class people would up and rob them blind or go on a toot with no thought for tomorrow.  So clearly, they believed that religion was the source of morality.  Only the Elect - I mean, the Enlightened - were somehow immune to this.  The similarity of this sect of atheism to Calvinism should be obvious.  But there is no reason why people otherwise to busy waiting on the Voltaires of the world cannot be taught the morality that others have had the time to work out.  Voltaire need fear his butler less than the other Enlightened, once they got their hands on guillotines. 

Reply to Obj. 5.  Naturalism is philosophically incoherent.  If Rosenberg is right about what naturalism implies, there are no beliefs or desires, nor is there any such thing as the “original intentionality” or meaning of thoughts or the intentionality exhibited by language. There is simply no "fact of the matter" about what anything means. But if this is correct, then there is in particular no "fact of the matter" about Rosenberg's naturalism and the objection can be ignored on its own terms.
+ + +

Notes
(*) and by extension, btw, correct conclusions about the natural world.
(**) Soul.  The medieval theologians wrote in Latin.  In Latin, "soul" is anima, which means "life."  To ask whether someone has a soul is to ask if he is alive. Next question.
(***) Virtue.  More Latin.  Virtuus means "strength," which is normally attained through exercise.
(****) More Latin: sane and healthy are the same word: sanus.  This is why the virtues are explicitly parallel to good diet and exercise.  "Mens sana in corpore sano"

Acknowledgments to the premier Aristo-Thomist thinkers on-line today: James Chastek at
JustThomism and Ed Feser at edwardfeser.blogspot.com/  Also relied upon for this essay, Etienne Gilson, in a recently-purchased book, not yet digested, and Robert Brennan in my old college textbook, Thomistic Psychology, saved lo these many years in the hopes of one day understanding it.... 


Postscript

Gang 'killed victims to extract their fat'

Peruvian police arrest suspects who allegedly drained their victims and sold liquid as an anti-wrinkle treatment

<snip>Three suspects have confessed to killing five people for their fat, said Colonel Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru 's anti-kidnapping police, but the number of victims was believed to be much higher and to date back decades. Two of the suspects were arrested at a bus station in the capital, Lima, carrying bottles of liquid fat which they claimed were worth up to £36,000 a gallon. <snip>



 


Comments

( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
branemrys.blogspot.com
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)
This is splendid, and makes one realize how much convenience hyperlinking and modern formatting can introduce into the medieval disputation format. (I particularly like the split coloring of Prudence.)
marycatelli
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
soul=anima=life
And yet you get silly fantasy writers talking about perfectly normal humans, fully functional in every respect -- including conscience! -- and claim they have no souls.

They seem to have a very primitive sort of notion of soul, like a tribe that believes a giant can put its soul in hiding to protect it, or one's soul is an external animal.

Piers Anthony, oddly enough, had it right in the first Xanth novel: a manticore, coming to the Magician Humphrey to learn if it had a soul, was told that only a soul would have the faculties to ask the question, so it had to have one, by dint of having asked. Later, he treats it as a detachable sort of thingee that can even be torn in half. . . sigh

(what a tangent. 0:)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 29th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
Not trying to start something, but wasn't Voltaire a deist?
superversive
Apr. 29th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
Voltaire claimed to be a deist, but it may have been protective coloration. Rousseau once observed that while Voltaire claimed to believe in God, he really only believed in the Devil, because he blamed his version of God for everything that went wrong in the world.
misterpengo
Apr. 30th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Protective coloration?
I suppose it's possible, but that doesn't seem like the easiest case to make. Maybe his coloration was just that good.

That said, I think the thrust of M_Francis' point goes through whether or not Voltaire was a deist.
marycatelli
Apr. 30th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
It's also possible that he believed that belief in Theism was necessary for morality and is advocating it on that basis. This would entail believing atheism would render them immoral as well as Deism.
branemrys.blogspot.com
Apr. 30th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
I think this is probably fairly close to what Voltaire believed. I've discussed Voltaire's view somewhat, in the context of his famous claim, "If God did not exist, one would have to invent Him," here (http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2009/06/il-faudrait-linventer.html).
m_francis
May. 1st, 2010 06:05 am (UTC)
A deist is an atheist who believes in God. LOL
martinjt
Apr. 29th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
Honest atheist
lukeprog at commonsenseathism.com seems clear that he is working on how atheists can be moral but would, I think, agree that they don't seem to have a leg to stand on.

And to be clear for the inevitable atheist objecting. The point is not that atheists are immoral monsters rather that they do not have a logicalbasis for being moral.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Is there an honest atheist?
"And to be clear for the inevitable atheist objecting. The point is not that atheists are immoral monsters rather that they do not have a logicalbasis for being moral."

And -- 'atheists' being for the most part intellectually dishonest -- it doesn't matter how many times, nor how clearly (as here), the point is explicated ... the little pretend-atheists of the world will whinge that we've called them bad names.
martinjt
May. 3rd, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Is there an honest atheist?
The vast majority of mankind has not spent 10 minutes of their lifetimes wondering "why" something is good and true. Of the remainder the vast majority (present party included) have numerous unchallanged presumptions on "why" and "what" that they ( I am) only relatively better than the totally unthinking ones.

My brother and my niece are atheists. Neither seem to be so due to any strong intellectual commitment though they would deny that. My brother blanches and leaves if God/atheism/religion is raised as a subject. My niece was so mishandled by my sister that she has rejected God simply because my sister is Catholic.

I find it hard to accuse them of being dishonest as the weight of their problems keep them from being able to even look.
whswhs
Apr. 30th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
This argument looks as if it might be equivocal in the meaning of "morality."

* Are we referring to morality as a cultural and institutional element of human societies, descriptively, or are we referring to morality as something that we are obliged to follow? It is a factual truth that nearly all human societies have moralities, and have effective methods of getting most people to adhere to them. Why this should be so is a partly empirical and partly philosophical question. The Christian may suppose that they exist because God has implanted a moral sense in human beings (even in human beings who are not Christians, as in this belief system Christianity is not simply the arbitrary belief system of one particular culture); the naturalist must suppose that they exist because they favor long-term survival, both for themselves and for their human hosts. (Presumably a morality could make its host mildly dysfunctional by making them devote effort to infecting others with the morality; an acute morality would kill too many of its hosts and die out.) I don't see that the latter is obviously wrong; Darwinism explains a lot of complicated forms of organization.

* Are we talking about morality in general, or specifically about Christian morality? For Nietzsche, at least, the claim that English utilitarians are being illogical in adhering to Christian morality while rejecting Christian faith is not equivalent to a claim that all non-Christians or all atheists must be immoral; Nietzsche was one of the first and most thoroughgoing ethical relativists, as one of the early chapters of Thus Spoke Zarathustra evidences . . . perhaps because his study of ancient Greek moral beliefs had made such a strong impression on him.

* If morality means Christian morality, then obviously atheists cannot have a logical basis for believing in morality. But if morality means morality generally, then the same claim appears question-begging: It requires us to grant at the outset that morality means theistic morality. There are other candidate moral systems.
marycatelli
Apr. 30th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
There are other candidate moral systems.
Please provide these counter-examples.
whswhs
Apr. 30th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Re: There are other candidate moral systems.
Ancient Greek moral beliefs of the Homeric era (speaking of Nietzsche). Ancient Greek moral ideas of classical Athens, with, for example, the assumption that sex with a woman, a boy, or a slave was natural, but sex between two adult men was a perversion (some of the most abusive epithets in Greek, such as eurypygon and katapygon, refer to a man who accepts the "passive" role in homosexuality), and the assumption that there was a natural tie between democracy and pederasty. Buddhist ethics as taught by Gautama. The partially Buddhist ethics of samurai era Japan. Objectivism.
m_francis
May. 1st, 2010 06:10 am (UTC)
Re: There are other candidate moral systems.
It is instructive that the Buddha was canonized as St. Jehosaphat [iirc] when his story began to circulate in Christian Europe. There are obvious differences: Christianity preaches social justice, Buddhism preaches a withdrawal from the world. Things like that.

Bushido is more akin to European codes of chivalry than to a system of morality. Professional engineers also have a code of ethics. It does not constitute a separate moral system.

You may be confusing a moral system with a set of specific commandments meant to cover all possible situations, as is the case with Qur'an, Confucianism, et al. If we instead adopt the Aristotelian-Christian POV of rationalism, we can see that such things are easily explained.

Or is burning widows on the husband's funeral pyre "moral" because that is the custom in one place, but not another.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Noooo
"There are obvious differences: Christianity preaches social justice, Buddhism preaches a withdrawal from the world."

Nooo .... leftism preaches "social justice;" Christianity preaches justice. Chriatianity no more preaches "social justice" than that it preaches "racial justice."

Justice is due (from and to) individuals, as individuals.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
Re: There are other candidate moral systems.
I don't yet have a "feel" for 'whswhs,' but perhaps here he's doing similar to his response to this post of mine.
m_francis
May. 1st, 2010 05:57 am (UTC)
* Are we referring to morality as a cultural and institutional element of human societies, descriptively, or are we referring to morality as something that we are obliged to follow?

The latter. The former is mere custom. (Though custom is never mere.) Augustine cites as example the wearing of a dalmatic, which in earlier times would have been regarded with great disapproval whereas in his own day, every man of culture wore it in preference to the toga.

* the naturalist must suppose that ["moralities"] exist because they favor long-term survival... Darwinism explains a lot of complicated forms of organization.

The mastery of electro-magnetic energies also favor long-term survival; but we mustn't suppose radios exist because they favor long-term survival. Electromagnetism is not entirely a cultural construct.

Darwinism is amazingly supple. Survivors survive. Whatever traits they possess can be "explained" via just-so stories as contributing to their survival. This "adaptationist" story telling is what the late Jay Stephen Gould used to complain about. That which explains everything explains nothing.
+ + +
* Are we talking about morality in general, or specifically about Christian morality? For Nietzsche, at least, the claim that English utilitarians are being illogical in adhering to Christian morality while rejecting Christian faith is not equivalent to a claim that all non-Christians or all atheists must be immoral.

It was his claim that a Christian morality -- love thine enemy, feed the hungry, etc. -- could not be maintained absent Christianity. Sartre said much the same thing. And it is this morality which most atheists are anxious to believe they maintain. Look at the various made-up codes, like those of "wicca" or "humanism", which attempt to retain these things by putting them on a different basis. But as Fish pointed out, the different basis usually palms the ace. They already know these are the "right" answers, and behind the "basis" there is an unexamined assumption.

But the moral structure I outlined in the main post was not specifically Christian. It was developed by the Aristotelians (and to some extent by the Neoplatonists). It never became widespread in Greece and Rome, except among the rationalist minority. Greek morality is summed up in the answer the Athenians gave the Melians for their unprovoked attack on that small city-state: "The strong take what they can; and the weak suffer what they must." And the Athenians were the good guys! We associate it with Christianity only because the Christians adopted the rationalist view.

* If morality means Christian morality, then obviously atheists cannot have a logical basis for believing in morality.

But it was precisely Paul's contention (and that of the Church) that a rational atheist was entirely capable of determining right action. Provided the atheist applied right reason and did not simply allow his passions to rule his mind. Humans being rational animals, reason was the key factor. If morality is one, then other peoples, lacking in the disciplines of Greek logic and reason, might only dimly perceive the essence of it. After all, if a thing is real, it is no surprise if different people see it from different angles or with greater or lesser clarity.
+ + +
But if morality means morality generally, then the same claim appears question-begging: It requires us to grant at the outset that morality means theistic morality. There are other candidate moral systems.

This notion derives from the triumph of the will. When the appetites rule the intellect and what is right is whatever is desired, then it appears as if morality varies from person to person. But this is only because they have foregone the use us reason. You will notice that in the main post there was no mention of a theos, and so "theistic" morality does not enter into it. All that was required was the acknowledgment that humans were rational animals, and that all seek what to them seems good. Reason tells us that not everything that seems good is good, and the rest follows.

mmoa
Apr. 30th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this as it's a topic I like to think about as well (not that my thinking is particularly rigourous at the best of times!). I think there's something rather ironic about the fact that it's the dreaded St Paul who, on this issue at least, would today be on the same side as his militant anti-religionists!
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
The “slippery slope” to religion
"Objection 5. Also Alex Rosenberg, in "The Disenchanted Naturalists Guide to Reality, asserts that naturalism denies the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail, and we just have to learn to live with that. A belief in meanings and purposes is what puts us on a “slippery slope” to religion."

It's true: naturalism -- the logically inevitable stance once one denies that God is – “ denies the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort .”

Therefore, since naturalism “ denies the existence … of the self ,” we -- who *are* selves -- know that naturalism is false. Therefore, since the denial of the existence of selves is a logical consequence of the denial of God, we know that atheism is false.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
Act and action
Every voluntary act is two acts.
· An interior act of the will whose object is the end; and
· the exterior act whose object is the means.


Act and action.

The "interior" act of the will is the act; the "exterior" movement to obtain the end is the action.


"The first is the formal cause while the second is the material cause of the act.

The act is the formal cause of the action (and of the events which follow from it); the action is the material cause of whatever events it is the cause of.

"The first is the formal cause while the second is the material cause of the act.
m_francis
May. 2nd, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Act and action
I was quoting Gilson or Brennan. You seem to be thinking of formal and material causes as if they were special kinds of efficient causes.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Act and action
I was paraphrasing Adler's distinction between 'act' and 'action' ... and attempting to tie it to your use of 'formal cause' and 'material cause,' and attempting to thereby clarify how those causal distinctions apply here.
ilion7
May. 2nd, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Catholicism and leftism
"Two sins against Justice are capitalism, which is greed rampant, and socialism, which is envy ramapant."

Bosh! Capitalism is not "greed rampant." And the only way to conclude that "greed rampant" (whatever its correct name) is a sin against Justice is to twist the meaning of the word 'justice' to the leftist "social justice" logic-pretzel.

Catholicism's hatred of profit -- when in private hands, of course; the Roman church is all for profit in its own hands -- supplies the emotional, and ultimately the theoretical, basis of all the anti-human strains of socialism and, ultimately, of full-bore leftism.

Leftism/socialism is a Christian, and specifically a Catholic, heresy. But, in this case, the bad apple didn't fall far from the tree.
(Anonymous)
May. 3rd, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Re: Catholicism and leftism
I don't think Catholicism has any hatred of profit. The criticism seems typically aimed at the idea of maximizing material gain as the primary overriding principle an economy or society runs by.

Is that capitalism? The problem I have with thinking that is it leaves out the human component, the person who can make a billion dollars and yet decide to live modestly while primarily using that money for good - without being compelled by a governing authority.

On the flipside, socialism has 'compelled by a governing authority' worked right into it. I have yet to meet a socialist who will argue "We don't need laws to achieve what we want. Just cooperation and dedication among ourselves within the system."
m_francis
May. 3rd, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Catholicism and leftism
What can be more enterprising than the postscript of the original post: an enterprising band of Peruvians kidnapping and rendering down people for their body fat, to be sold at a profit to those who believe this confers health and youth? A conservative friend of mind contends that pure capitalism would end with human flesh being sold in the marketplace.

Neither capitalism, socialism, nor consumerism can function well absent a population with a sense of absolute morality.

See Chesterton, for example: http://www.wikilivres.info/wiki/The_Scandal_of_Father_Brown/The_Crime_of_the_Communist
(Anonymous)
May. 3rd, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
Synderesis
Dear Sir, You may benefit from a review of St. Thomas' distinction between synderesis and syneidesis, which includes St. Paul's distinction. The former is the habit of first principles, as you state; the latter, however, which is the actual word used by Paul, and is rightly translated as "conscience", Thomas states to be rather an "act", although he acknowledges some variation in the tradition, which continues to develop even in our own time, it seems, with the offerings of Venerable Newman and John Paul II. Vide Veritatis Splendor 34, 54-56. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1079.htm#article13 and http://www.greekbible.com/index.php at Romans 2:15 ("συνειδήσεως")
glennbreeze
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
Good to see you
So good to see you back at first things. You really should submit your "De Moralitate Atheorum" to them. It should be better known in the world.
m_francis
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:23 am (UTC)
Re: Good to see you
Oh, sometimes I have a bit of time on my hands and I leave it open in the background so YOS can play around. Right now, the book is done and awaiting commentary for rework, and I have a novelette cooking along.

Alas, the post here isn't all that original -- though it is amusing -- and it would need considerable polishing. I'm not sure what FT could do with it.
glennbreeze
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Good to see you
Whatever isn't original about it could be attributed. The embedded links make it more suitable to the web than to print, and I have the impression that FT's web-only expectations are not as demanding. Would you mind if I pass the idea by them?
m_francis
Jan. 17th, 2011 10:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Good to see you
If you like.
glennbreeze
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
Re: Good to see you
I just emailed the web editor. If they're not interested, then at the very least I will be sure to provide this link whenever the occasion arises.
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